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Department of Conservation (Doc) wildlife response kaitiaki, New Zealand Sea Lion Trust volunteers and Doc staff spoke to more than 180 people, both locals and tourists, last weekend about the importance of sharing the beach with marine mammal visitors.
Doc coastal Otago ranger Jim Fyfe said after recent close calls, including one incident where a resting sea lion lunged at a tourist who got too close, it was time to get boots on the ground and speak to people face to face.
"We’re really lucky in Otago to share our coastline with wonderful creatures such as sea lions, and we know people are excited to see them. However, no-one likes it when someone sits too close in the coffee shop or is making too much noise when you’re trying to rest, so why do that to a 350kg sea lion?
"It’s about being respectful to the animal, giving them space and enjoying from a safe distance — for both people and the sea lions."
The presence of the advocates prevented at least one group from upsetting a sea lion.
"We were able to hastily step in and stop a man and his daughter from rushing straight up to an unsuspecting sea lion."
While there were about 30 male sea lions sunbathing at Sandfly Bay last weekend, they were still as endangered as the kiwi or kakapo, he said.
It was a privilege to have them on Otago Peninsula as sea lions only started being born there about 15 years ago.
"Generally, most people we spoke to were aware of the importance of giving them space and it was overall a really positive worthwhile exercise."
Doc staff and volunteers would maintain a presence on beaches around Dunedin over the summer, monitoring wildlife and talking to visitors, he said.