Moving Gem: A sea lion translocation tale

Department of Conservation —  26/01/2012

By Lucy Hardy, DOC Ranger, Coastal Otago

Last week sea lion mum Gem decided to have her first pup on Tomahawk Beach, a busy Dunedin beach popular with dog walkers.

Female sea lions are sandy coloured and can be difficult to see on the beach, so DOC erected a fence around the pair to stop unsuspecting dog walkers getting a surprise.

Keen volunteers from the local Tomahawk Smails Beach Care Trust, the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and DOC, kept an eye on Gem and the pup, providing visitors with information about the New Zealand sea lion and advice on keeping dogs under control.

Staff knew that Gem would get hungry and head out to sea leaving her young pup alone and vulnerable. The unanimous decision was made to move the pair to a safer, quieter location.

The transfer team assembled early in the morning at Tomahawk Beach on Friday 20 January. DOC staff from Coastal Otago, Otago University researchers, Nathan McNally and Amélie Augé, New Zealand Sea Lion Trust members, Stevi Broni and Shaun MacConkey, local vet, Tony Malthus, and Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust ranger, Leith Thomson, were all part of the team. We also had Brian McKay on hand with a 4wd – the last thing we needed was to get the DOC trucks stuck on the sand with TV crews filming.

The plan was to sneak up on Gem while she was asleep. When we arrived she was awake so the team had to loiter in the dunes, trying to look casual, for about 20 mins.

Finally Gem put her head down for a nap. Nathan sprang into action with the net and the wranglers moved in.

Once Amélie had control of the head (that’s the part with the sharp teeth) the others jumped on. It took four people to restrain Gem while local vet Tony Malthus prepared the sedative. The pup was easily picked up and put into a cage.

After the sedative was administered the team waited for Gem to settle down. After 5 minutes it was obvious the dose wasn’t enough. Gem was feisty and wasn’t having any of it, so vet Tony administered another one, and the wait continued.

DOC ranger Mel Young and Otago University researcher Amélie Augé jump at any chance they can get to cuddle a sea lion. “They smell of a fresh beach towel,” says Mel.

Finally Gem succumbed to the sedative and it was safe to roll her onto a tarp…

The media were there catching all the action.

It took all of our strength to lift 110kg Gem onto the back of the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust vehicle and then we were off to the new secret location.

By the time we arrived at the release site Gem was wide awake and pretty keen to get off the back of the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust vehicle.

The pup was tagged (number 9015), weighed (10kg) and a DNA sample was taken. Amanda did the honours and carried the pup to her new home.

Without mum, sea lion pup 9015 is looking a bit forlorn (but still very cute). Luckily, the separation is brief…

So, without further ado, the vehicle door was opened and Gem was off…

Stepping back to freedom.

Feeling the good old earth beneath her flippers.

Gem heads straight to her pup.

Reunited.

Sharing a kiss.

A happy ending.

Gem and pup ‘9015’ remained very close to the point of their release for three days. On the fourth day, Gem finally got hungry enough to head out to the sea.

In January 2002 another sea lion translocation was completed successfully. This involved Leone, and her pup Lorelie, who were moved from Smaill’s Beach.

Like Gem, Lorelie was Leone’s first pup. Leone is now 16 years old and has raised 7 pups successfully. Lorelie is now 10 years old and has raised at least 2 pups successfully (that we know of).

All the female breeding sea lions on the Otago Coast are descended from one female ‘mum’. Check out the New Zealand Sea lion Trust website for the Otago Sea Lion Family Tree.

The New Zealand sea lion is listed as Nationally Critical, the highest threat classification in NZ – a status shared with kiwi and kakapo. Breeding is mostly restricted to the NZ subantarctic, although a slow return to mainland NZ is now occurring. There are currently 8 – 10 breeding females in the Dunedin area.

7 responses to Moving Gem: A sea lion translocation tale

  1. 
    Wayne Devine 09/02/2012 at 4:04 pm

    Loved the sealion story. I first encountered the beast on Campbell Island – a male doing his best to stop a female getting into the water. I had to wait 20 minutes to get onto the beach to transact my much less primal task.

  2. 
    Anne Coplestone 08/02/2012 at 4:20 pm

    I’m always anxious when mankind has to intervene with animals as there is not always such a happy outcome. One can only assume the beaches where these pups were born were once the birth place of this sea lions family.

  3. 
    Peta Ericsson 02/02/2012 at 6:06 pm

    I really, really liked it when Gem was released and she ran to her pup.

    Peta (aged 6)

    • 

      Thanks Peta. It was really neat to see Gem and her pup reunited. They were very happy to be back together.

  4. 
    Lynnette Ward 26/01/2012 at 10:44 am

    This is a lovely story. Have you thought of submitting it to School Journals for publication? Children love to read about animals and the people who care for and rescue them.

    • 

      Thanks Lynnette that’s a great idea.

      • 
        Lynnette Ward 03/02/2012 at 11:17 am

        PLEASE DON’T JUST LEAVE IT AS AN IDEA. I THINK THAT A LOT OF WHAT DOC AND OTHER CONSERVATION GROUPS NEEDS TO BE PUT IN FRONT OF THE RISING GENERATION NOT ONLY BECAUSE THEY WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE GUARDIANSHIP OF THE EARTH, BUT BECAUSE THEY HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE WHAT THE ADULTS IN THEIR LIVES DO RIGHT NOW.