Opinion: crossing paths and telling stories

A sea lion heads up from the beach on Otago Peninsula. PHOTO: JIM FYFE
A sea lion heads up from the beach on Otago Peninsula. PHOTO: JIM FYFE
I am impressed with the social hum about the aurora.

Our networking and mobilisation in response to this event shows how connected we all are.

But the way we connect, and the way we travel is almost unrecognisable from 100 years ago.

Think of Lance Richdale camping out to protect the first toroa/albatross eggs at Pukekura/Taiaroa Head. How much harder would he have had to work if people had heard about this rare occurrence online, and jumped in their cars?

I romanticise that, as people mostly walked, biked, or took public transport, they would share information when their paths crossed.

"Did you hear that the great albatross has laid another egg?"

"There is this mad teacher camping out to make sure people leave it alone."

In 1936 a sub-adult-male (SAM) sea lion, Joey, drew crowds of thousands of people from around Dunedin (there was a tramline to St Clair).

People did some silly things. Joey behaved something like a mischievous dog, and enjoyed the social interaction.

It did not end well. His mischief became a nuisance, he was put in a crate and taken up to Wellington zoo, where he promptly died.

We have also had to work hard to protect the shy hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins — now at scary low numbers — from human curiosity.

If I were to make one appeal for the safety of a local species it would be "please resist any urge to cross paths with hoiho".

Do not share information online, or by word of mouth, about where to find these last few.

Visitors now outnumber the hoiho to be viewed by at least 1000:1 — this is not sustainable. Take guided tours with permitted operators who manage viewing so that hoiho are not negatively impacted.

Sea lions’ capacity for social interaction has always fascinated people. Their social networking is a bit more like ours used to be ... hanging out at communal places, trying to bump into friends and keep away from the bullies.

A young sea lion sits beside a car above St Clair beach. PHOTO: GIVERNY FORBES
A young sea lion sits beside a car above St Clair beach. PHOTO: GIVERNY FORBES
Herries Beattie, who cycled around Southland and Otago in the early 20th century, spoke with many Ngāi Tahu kaumātua recording their stories.

Some of these capture the social nature of sea lions (referred to historically as "hair seals"): "He ara pakake" — the pathway of the hair seal as they travel to places inland; "He takotoraka pakake" — referring to accessible sandy beaches where the hair seal would gather.

In a folk tale the hair seal was friends with the New Zealand quail/koreke (now extinct), but had to leave our shores for fear of being eaten.

The encounter between Ngāi Tahu fighting chief Te Wera and an adult male sea lion at the Neck, Rakiura, became a whakataukī (Māori proverb).

"Ko te hoa kakari o te Wera, Ko te Whakahao — The foe of Te Wera was a sea lion", reminds us it is wise to learn about those things we may find challenging.

It is exciting that sea lions have returned to breed here.

After 30 years, and with a seventh-generation pup born this year, sea lions and people mostly share space and cross paths with success.

Our roads, however, are no longer a social place to catch up with news. They present a big risk to both humans and sea lions.

Sea lion mothers are starting to move to winter camps to find shelter from the worst of the weather.

On their journey to independence, pups are travelling further to continue playing with their mates while mum is out foraging.

Please watch out for these roaming pups, who often use the Peninsula inlet roads to get about.

I would like to give a shout out to the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust’s revamped website which is helping to plug communication about sea lions into our modern social grid www.sealiontrust.org.nz

By Jim Fyfe
Doc Biodiversity Ranger
— Koiora Rereketanga
Coastal Otago District