The deaths of four Otago sea lions in the past 12 months
show how precarious the situation of the developing population
is, New Zealand Sea Lion Trust spokesman Shaun McConkey says.
As only four pups were born during the last breeding season,
the Otago population failed to grow and might have declined,
"It's unusual to find one but to find four ... the mysterious
deaths are certainly cause for concern."
It was not just an Otago problem as the latest figures on the
Auckland Island population showed the third-lowest pup
production ever reported.
Department of Conservation scientist Dr Louise Chilvers said
the pup production estimate for the Auckland Island
population for 2011-12 was about 1683.
In the late 1990s the population was estimated at 3021 but
had steadily declined to a low of 1501 in 2008-09.
"They are still nationally critical and that's where they'll
The slight increase from the previous year's 1550 was within
the natural fluctuations expected from year to year.
"Half the beach is still empty relative to where it was 12
years ago," she said of the Auckland Island beaches on which
pups were counted.
Mr McConkey said the concern was the fishing industry and
Fisheries Ministry would use the slight increase as
justification for continuing to lessen limits on sea lion
"It does not indicate everything is fine and they're doing
You can't say ... they're no longer in danger."
They were continuing to lobby the Government for more
communication about its management strategies but with little
success, he said.
In Otago, the population had a bad year with four sea-lion
deaths, including two females, whose cause of death was not
clear. Of the two males, one was shot and the other died of a
While a few years ago it was normal to see 50 sea lions on
Otago beaches, now it closer to 30 to 40 on the main beaches,
he said. There were also tagged sea lions which had not been
seen for a few seasons.
Bacterial infections had hit the Auckland Islands hard in the
past but had not affected the Otago population, possibly
because they were healthier and well-fed.
"We need to get a better handle on if those who have
disappeared have died or are just hiding out of sight."
Dr Chilvers said there were still a lot of things they needed
to understand about sea lions, such as why they were low
reproducers compared to other sea lion species.
There was also the impact of environmental change and