Sea lion pups
Image: Thomas Burns | DOC

Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A series of New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka specialists will begin their journeys to subantarctic islands this week for the start of sea lion study season.

Date:  11 December 2017

Scientists and volunteers are heading to the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island to undertake annual pup counts, tagging and important research on disease to help promote the recovery of the population. Research will also take place on Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Otago and Southland coastlines.

DOC science advisor marine mammals Laura Boren says because 98% of breeding occurs on the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, this field work forms an important part of the overall recovery and data collection.

“Sea lion numbers are currently estimated at about 12,000 and they’re classed as Nationally Critical – the highest threat classification.”

“In July, we launched the New Zealand Sea Lion Threat Management Plan which sets out a robust set of practical actions to promote the recovery of the population.”

One of the commitments in this plan is to ensure monitoring and targeted research takes place at these key locations every year, Laura Boren says.

“This means we’ll have a more complete understanding of the factors in each different environment that contribute to sea lion mortality.”

Currently, the major threats to sea lions vary by location – things such as disease, commercial fishing and pups drowning in natural holes are factors in the subantarctic, while on the mainland deliberate human-caused mortality can be a threat.

For this field work season, researchers on the Auckland Islands will focus on the disease Klebsiella pneumonia, a bacterial disease responsible for killing large numbers of sea lion pups.

On Campbell Island, where pup mortality due to falling into natural holes is high, fisheries organisation Deepwater Group Ltd are funding a study to find solutions to this problem.

Pup counts, tagging and surveys to discover how many sea lions return each year will happen across all sites, Laura Boren says.

To mark the start of the season, The New Zealand Sea Lion Trust held a pre-pupping season gathering at the Dunedin Public Library on Saturday 9 December.

“It was a good chance for the volunteers on the Otago Coast – who do such a great job – to get an update on the season ahead and find out how last year’s pups are doing.”

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