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.
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.