New Zealand sea lion

The New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri), also known as Hooker's sea lion, and whakahao in Māori, is a species of sea lion that primarily breeds on New Zealand's subantarctic Auckland and Campbell islands and to some extent around the coast of New Zealand's South and Stewart islands. The New Zealand sea lion numbers around 10,000 and is perhaps the world's rarest sea lion species.[2] They are the only species of the genus Phocarctos.

New Zealand sea lion
New Zealand Sea Lion, adult male
New zealand sea lion nursing
Female with pup
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Clade: Pinnipedia
Family: Otariidae
Genus: Phocarctos
Peters, 1866
P. hookeri
Binomial name
Phocarctos hookeri
(Gray, 1844)
New Zealand Sea Lion area
New Zealand sea lion range

Physiology and behaviour

New Zealand sea lions are one of the largest New Zealand animals. Like all otariids, they have marked sexual dimorphism; adult males are 240–350 centimetres (7.9–11.5 ft) long and weigh 320–450 kilograms (710–990 lb), while adult females are 180–200 centimetres (5.9–6.6 ft) long and weigh 90–165 kilograms (198–364 lb). At birth, pups are 70–100 centimetres (2.3–3.3 ft) long and weigh 7–8 kilograms (15–18 lb); the natal pelage is a thick coat of dark brown hair that becomes dark gray with cream markings on the top of the head, nose, tail and at the base of the flippers. Adult females' coats vary from buff to creamy grey with darker pigmentation around the muzzle and the flippers. Adult males are blackish-brown with a well-developed black mane of coarse hair reaching the shoulders.[3] New Zealand sea lions are strongly philopatric.


The main breeding populations are at the Auckland and Campbell Islands in the NZ Subantarctic, where approximately 99% of the species' annual pup production occurs. There are currently three functioning breeding rookeries on the Auckland Islands.[4] Most sea lions are born on Dundas Island. A smaller rookery exists at Sandy Bay on Enderby Island and the smallest rookery is on Figure of Eight Island. An even smaller rookery at South East Point on Auckland Island appears to now have been abandoned.

The other major breeding area is the Campbell Islands. For the first time in 150 years, sea lions began breeding again on the South Island coast in 1994, on the Otago Peninsula. Other small populations of breeding sea lions have recently begun to establish in various parts of the Stewart Island coastline and have been observed on the Catlins coast south of the Clutha River.[5]

Recent DNA information indicates the New Zealand sea lion is a lineage previously restricted to subantarctic regions. Somewhere between 1300 and 1500 AD, a genetically distinct mainland lineage was wiped out by the first Maori settlers,[6] and the subantarctic lineage has since then gradually filled the ecological niche.[7][7] It has been inferred from middens and ancient DNA that a third lineage was made extinct at the Chatham Islands due to predation by the Moriori people.[8][9]

Diet and predation

New Zealand sea lions are known to prey on a wide range of species including fish such as Antarctic horsefish and Patagonian toothfish, cephalopods (e.g. New Zealand arrow squid and yellow octopus), crustaceans, seabirds and other marine mammals including New Zealand fur seals.[10] Studies indicate a strong location effect on diet, with almost no overlap in prey species comparing sea lions at Otago Peninsula and Campbell Island, at the north and south extents of the species' breeding range.[11][12] New Zealand sea lions are in turn preyed on by great white sharks, with 27% showing evidence of scarring from near-miss shark attacks in an opportunistic study of adult NZ sea lions at Sandy Bay, Enderby Island.[13]


One of colonies on Enderby Island

New Zealand sea lions are considered the most threatened sea lion in the world.[14] The species' status is largely driven by the main breeding population at the Auckland Islands, which declined by ~50% between 2000 and 2015.[15] The 2013 sea lion pup production count on the Auckland Islands showed the number of pups born on the islands has risen to 1931, from the 2012 figure of 1684 (dead pups are also counted, since the annual pup count is used to assess the population of breeding females, but not future births when the counted pups mature). The 2013 number was the highest in five years.[16][17] The Campbell Island population 'appears to be increasing slowly' and births here comprise ~30% of the species' total.[18] The Otago and Stewart Island sea lion populations are currently small, though increasing. Population estimates for the whole species declined from ~15,000 in the mid-1990s to 9,000 in 2008 (based on the number of pups born).

In 2010, the Department of Conservation—responsible for marine mammal conservation—changed the New Zealand Threat Classification System ranking from Nationally Endangered to Nationally Critical.[19] The Department of Conservation estimates that Auckland Islands' sea lions, nearly 80% of the total, could be functionally extinct by 2035.[20][21] However, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries considers research on which this prediction is based is low quality and ‘should not be used in management decisions’.[22] In 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the classification of this species to "Endangered", based on low overall population size, the small number of breeding populations and the projected trend of the Auckland Islands breeding population.[1]

New Zealand Sea Lions at The Spit, Aramoana
Sea lions on Aramoana in the Otago Harbour
Karitane Channel
With kayakers in Karitane Harbour


Subsistence hunting and commercial sealing

Subsistence hunting and commercial harvest of sea lions greatly reduced the breeding range and population size of New Zealand sea lions between the 13th and 19th Centuries. In 1893, sealing for both New Zealand sea lions and New Zealand fur seals was prohibited by law in New Zealand.[23]

Commercial fishery bycatch

In the 1990s, as the volume of squid fishing around the Auckland Islands increased, numbers of sea lions were captured as bycatch and drowned in the squid trawl nets. The government uses a modelling system to set a fishing-related mortality limit (FRML) each year. If the limit is predicted to be exceeded, the Minister of Primary Industries may close the fishery. The last time the FRML was exceeded was in 2000, though a number of closures occurred in the 1990s.[22] The estimated (as different from reported) captures in the 2014 season were 11.58% of the FRML.[24] The proportion of vessels in the Auckland Island squid fishery with government observers has increased over the years, providing independent reports of bycatch based on observation rather than computer model estimates. In the 2014 season, the observers' coverage was of 84% of tows.[24] In late February 2013, the first observed sea lion mortalities in the Auckland Island squid fleet in three years occurred. Juvenile sea lions slipped through the grid at the opening of the net into its cod end.[25] The 23-cm grid aperture is designed to hold adult sea lions in the SLED and yet still allow squid to pass into the net.[22] In 2013, one adult female was taken as incidental bycatch.[26] In the concluded 2014 season, two sea lions were reportedly captured in the fishery.[24]

In August 2013, the seasonal southern blue whiting fleet captured 21 male sea lions in fishing grounds more than 100 km off the Campbell Islands. Four were released alive. No captures were reported by government observers the year before. The government responded to the captures by requesting the vessels try sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs) to reduce this bycatch.

Sea lion exclusion devices

In 2001, the sea lion exclusion device (SLED) was introduced into the Auckland Island squid fishery to reduce sea lion bycatch.[27] Conservation advocates have supported SLED use to protect other marine animals or sharks.[28][29] Since 2007, all vessels in the Auckland Islands fishery have been equipped with SLEDs.[22] Some scientists still do not believe sea lions survive the interaction with a SLED,[30][31] though the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) believes the direct effect of fishing-related mortality on the sea lion population is minimal. MPI has concluded that a sea lion has an 85% chance of escaping the SLED and a 97 per cent probability of surviving a SLED escape, though it says this estimate may be 'mildly pessimistic'.[22]

Food limitation

Food availability is a well-known, major cause of population change in pinniped species.[32] The Auckland Islands population has displayed numerous indicators of food limitation during the recent decline in breeder numbers, including: poor maternal condition, delayed maturation, years with very low pupping rate, low survival of pups born and long-term shifts in diet composition.[33][34][35] Starvation was provisionally identified as cause of mortality for 62% of pups necropsied at Campbell Island in 2015, when 58% of all pups born were estimated to have died in the first month of life.[36]


Though the Auckland Island sea lion pup production is highly variable, a decline trend for some years followed the outbreak of an introduced bacterial disease caused by a Campylobacter species in 1998 which killed an estimated 53% of newborn pups and 20% of adult females. In 2002, another probably introduced bacterial disease caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae killed 32% of pups, and in 2003 another 21% of the pups.[37] Since 2002, K. pneumoniae bacteria have caused significant mortality in the sea lion pups at Enderby Island. Infected pups have meningitis, as well as septicemia.[38] On 12 March 2014, the Conservation Minister Nick Smith was quoted as saying an "excessive focus on fishing bycatch" existed and 300 pups had died this summer from an as yet unidentified disease.[39]

Mainland threats

The mainland population was estimated to reach 1000 animals by 2044, leading to issues of ‘marine protected areas, local fishing quotas and numbers management’.[40]


  1. ^ a b Chilvers, BL. (2015). "Phocarctos hookeri". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2015: e.T17026A1306343. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T17026A1306343.en. Retrieved 15 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Facts about sea lion". Department of Conservation. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  3. ^ Perrin, William. Encyclopedia of marine mammals.
  4. ^ "DoC: 7 March 2013, CSP Technical Working Group".
  5. ^ "Hungry for Answers". National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
  6. ^ Wishart S.. Newcomers. The New Zealand Geographic
  7. ^ a b "Research reveals New Zealand sea lion is a relative newcomer". Otago University. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  8. ^ McFadgen, B.G. (March 1994). "Archaeology and Holocene sand dune stratigraphy on Chatham Island". Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Royal Society of New Zealand. 24 (1): 17–44. doi:10.1080/03014223.1994.9517454.
  9. ^ Rawlence, N. (2016). "Human-mediated extirpation of the unique Chatham Islands sea lion and implications for the conservation management of remaining New Zealand sea lion populations". Molecular Biology. 25: 3950–3961. doi:10.1111/mec.13726.
  10. ^ Childerhouse, S; Dix, B; Gales, N (2001). "Diet of New Zealand sea lion Phocarctos hookeri at the Auckland Islands". Wildlife Research. 26: 839–846. doi:10.1071/wr98079.
  11. ^ Auge, A; Lalas, C; Davis, L; Chilvers, BL (2011). "Autumn diet of recolonising female New Zealand sea lions based at Otago Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 46: 97–110. doi:10.1080/00288330.2011.606326.
  12. ^ Roberts, J; Lalas, C (2015). "Diet of New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) at their southern breeding limits". Polar Biology. 38: 1483–1491. doi:10.1007/s00300-015-1710-3.
  13. ^ Robertson, Bruce C. "The population decline of the New Zealand sea lion" (PDF). Mammal Society: 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
  14. ^ "New Zealand sea lion". NZ Department of Conservation. Archived from the original on 18 January 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2009.
  15. ^ "New Zealand sea lion research at the Auckland Islands 2014/15" (PDF). Department of Conservation. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  16. ^ "DoC: 7 March 2013m CSP Technical Working Group".
  17. ^ "Seafood NZ: Auckland Island Sea Lion Pup Count Up For Second Year".
  18. ^ Childerhouse, S (2015). Final Report: NZ sea lion research at Campbell Island-Motu Ihupuku, 2014/15 (Report). Blue Planet Marine.
  19. ^ "Zero quota urged for sea lion". Radio New Zealand. 19 June 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  20. ^ "New Zealand sea lion". WWF. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  21. ^ "NZ sea lions facing extinction in 24 years—study". 11 January 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  22. ^ a b c d e "SQUID (SQU6T) – FINAL ADVICE PAP" (PDF). New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries. Retrieved 2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  23. ^ Childerhouse, S; Gales, N (1998). "Historical and modern distribution and abundance of the New Zealand sea lion Phocarctos hookeri". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 25: 1–16. doi:10.1080/03014223.1998.9518131.
  24. ^ a b c Ministry for Primary Industries, SQU6T Weekly Report for week ending 29 June
  25. ^ "Accidental Sea Lion Captures Regretable". Ministry for Primary Industries.
  26. ^ Ministry for Primary Industries, SQU6T Weekly Report for week ending 26 May
  27. ^ "Sea lion bycatch in New Zealand trawl fisheries". Dragonfly Limited. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  28. ^ Davidson, Issac (26 February 2013). "Plan to save feared predator delves into murky waters". NZ Herald.
  29. ^ "Shock over accidental catch rates". 3 News. 13 February 2013.
  30. ^ "Plan to end sea lion kill limit criticised". Otago Daily Times. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  31. ^ "Forest & Bird condemns 40% rise in sea lion quota". Forest & Bird. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2009.
  32. ^ Trites, A; Donnely, C (2003). "The decline of Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus in Alaska: a review of the nutritional stress hypothesis". Mammal Rev. 33: 3–28. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2907.2003.00009.x.
  33. ^ Auge, A (2010). Foraging ecology of recolonising female New Zealand sea lions around the Otago Peninsula, New Zealand (Ph.D. thesis). University of Otago.
  34. ^ Roberts, J; Doonan, I (2014). NZ sea lion: demographic assessment of the causes of decline at the Auckland Islands—Part 2 correlative assessment (Report). Prepared by NIWA for the NZ Department of Conservation.
  35. ^ Stewart-Sinclair, P (2013). The role of long-term diet change in the decline of the New Zealand sea lion population (M.Sc. thesis). Massey University.
  36. ^ Childerhouse, S (2015). Final Report: NZ sea lion research at Campbell Island-Motu Ihupuku, 2014/15 (Report). Blue Planet Marine.
  37. ^ Kate Mulcahy & Raewyn Peart (2012). Wonders of the Sea – the protection of New Zealand’s marine mammals. New Zealand Environmental Defence Society. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-9876660-1-7.
  38. ^ "Staff Profile; Dr Wendi Roe". Massey University.
  39. ^ Fox, Rebecca (12 March 2014). "300 sea lion pup deaths prompts search for answers". Otago Daily Times.
  40. ^ Augé, A.A; A.B. Moore; B.L. Chilvers (2012). "Predicting interactions between recolonizing marine mammals and fisheries: defining precautionary management". Fisheries Management and Ecology. 19: 426–433. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2400.2012.00861.x.

External links

Asiatic linsang

The Asiatic linsang (Prionodon) is a genus comprising two species native to Southeast Asia: the banded linsang (Prionodon linsang) and the spotted linsang (Prionodon pardicolor). Prionodon is considered a sister taxon of the Felidae.

Australian sea lion

The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) also known as the Australian sea-lion or Australian sealion, is a species of sea lion that is the only endemic pinniped in Australia. It is currently monotypic in the genus Neophoca, with the extinct Pleistocene New Zealand sea lion Neophoca palatina the only known congener. These sea lions are sparsely distributed through Houtman Arbrolhos Islands (28°S., 114°E.) in Western Australia and The Pages Islands (35°46’S., 138°18’E) in Southern Australia. With a population estimated at around 14,730 animals, the Wildlife Conservation Act of Western Australia (1950) has listed them as “in need of special protection”. Their Conservation status is listed as endangered. These pinnipeds are specifically known for their abnormal breeding cycles, which are varied between 5 months breeding cycle and a 17-18 month aseasonal breeding cycle, compared to other pinnipeds which fit into a 12-month reproductive cycle. Females are either silver or fawn with a cream underbelly and males are dark chocolate brown with a yellow mane and are bigger than the females.


Caniformia, or Canoidea (literally "dog-like"), is a suborder within the order Carnivora. They typically possess a long snout and nonretractile claws (in contrast to the cat-like carnivorans, the Feliformia). The Pinnipedia (seals, walruses and sea lions) are also assigned to this group. The center of diversification for Caniformia is North America and northern Eurasia. This contrasts with the feliforms, the center of diversification of which was in Africa and southern Asia.

Eared seal

An eared seal or otariid or otary is any member of the marine mammal family Otariidae, one of three groupings of pinnipeds. They comprise 15 extant species in seven genera (another species became extinct in the 1950s) and are commonly known either as sea lions or fur seals, distinct from true seals (phocids) and the walrus (odobenids). Otariids are adapted to a semiaquatic lifestyle, feeding and migrating in the water, but breeding and resting on land or ice. They reside in subpolar, temperate, and equatorial waters throughout the Pacific and Southern Oceans and the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They are conspicuously absent in the north Atlantic.

The words 'otariid' and 'otary' come from the Greek otarion meaning "little ear", referring to the small but visible external ear flaps (pinnae), which distinguishes them from the phocids.

Enderby Island

Enderby Island is part of the Auckland Islands archipelago, south of and belonging to New Zealand. It is situated just off the northern tip of Auckland Island, the largest island in the archipelago.


Ferret-badgers are the five species of the genus Melogale, which is the only genus of the monotypic mustelid subfamily Helictidinae.

Bornean ferret-badger (Melogale everetti)

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Galerella is a genus of the mongoose family (Herpestidae) native to Africa and commonly called the slender mongooses.There are four or five species in this genus, with more than 30 subspecies.

Four of the species have long been established:

A recent addition is the black mongoose, Galerella nigrata, which now is considered a separate species by many scientists, following genetic analysis. It was previously seen as a variant of Galerella sanguinea.


Lutrogale is a genus of otters, with only one extant species—the smooth-coated otter.

Mephitis (genus)

The genus Mephitis is one of several genera of skunks, which has two species and a North American distribution.

Metanephrops challengeri

Metanephrops challengeri (commonly known as the New Zealand lobster or New Zealand scampi) is a species of slim, pink lobster that lives around the coast of New Zealand. It is typically 13–18 cm (5–7 in) long and weighs around 100 g (3.5 oz). The carapace and abdomen are smooth, and adults are white with pink and brown markings and a conspicuous pair of long, slim claws. M. challengeri lives in burrows at depths of 140–640 m (460–2,100 ft) in a variety of sediments. Although individuals can live for up to 15 years, the species shows low fecundity, where small numbers of larvae hatch at an advanced stage.

M. challengeri is a significant prey item for ling, as well as being an important fishery species for human consumption; trawlers catch around 1,000 t (2,200,000 lb) per year under the limitations of New Zealand's Quota Management System. The species was first collected by the Challenger expedition of 1872–1876, but only described as separate from related species by Heinrich Balss in 1914. Although originally classified in the genus Nephrops, it was moved in 1972 to a new genus, Metanephrops, along with most other species then classified in Nephrops.


Mustelinae is a subfamily of family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, ferrets amd minks.It was formerly defined in a paraphyletic manner to also include wolverines, martens, and many other mustelids, to the exclusion of the otters (Lutrinae).


Neophoca is a genus of the family Otariidae (sea lions and fur seals) of order Carnivora. It is combined by some taxonomists with the genus Phocarctos, the (extant) New Zealand sea lion. Only one species survives:

N. cinerea: Australian sea lion. Most subpopulations are small and genetically isolated.Extinct species:

N. palatina, known from a skull found in New Zealand

Nototodarus sloanii

Nototodarus sloanii is a species of squid commonly known as the New Zealand arrow squid or Wellington flying squid. It is also known by its Māori name of Wheketere. It is a favoured prey species of a number of marine mammals and diving birds. It is an important food source for the New Zealand fur seal and the endangered species: New Zealand sea lion and yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes). N. sloanii is sought by trawler fishermen for human consumption; in this trawling process, Australian sea lions are frequently killed, since they prey upon N. sloanii.


Nyctereutes is an Old World genus of the family Canidae, consisting of just one living species, the raccoon dog of East Asia. Nyctereutes appeared about 9.0 million years ago (Mya), with all but one species becoming extinct before the Pleistocene.

Native to East Asia, the raccoon dog has been intensively bred for fur in Europe and especially in Russia during the twentieth century. Specimens have escaped or have been introduced to increase production and formed populations in Eastern Europe. It is currently expanding rapidly in the rest of Europe, where its presence is undesirable because it is considered to be a harmful and invasive species.


Paradoxurus is a genus within the viverrid family that was denominated and first described by Frédéric Cuvier in 1822. As of 2005, this genus was defined as comprising three species native to Southeast Asia:

the Asian palm civet (P. hermaphroditus)

the golden palm civet (P. zeylonensis)

the brown palm civet (P. jerdoni)In 2009, it was proposed to also include the golden wet-zone palm civet (P. aureus), the Sri Lankan brown palm civet (P. montanus) and the golden dry-zone palm civet (P. stenocephalus), which are endemic to Sri Lanka.

Pleistocene New Zealand sea lion

Pleistocene New Zealand sea lion (Neophoca palatina) is an extinct species of pinniped known from a nearly-complete adult male skull found at Ohope Beach on the North Island in 1937. It was found in a stratum from the late Castlecliffian stage, suggesting an approximate age of 400,000 years. It was not recognised as representing a new species until 1983, distinguishable from the extant Australian sea lion and New Zealand sea lion by the short palate (leading Dr. J. A. Berry to suggest the species name), lack of processes on the ethmoid bulla and the very wide basiocciptal. A more advanced morphometric analysis in 2016 strongly confirmed that the skull represented a distinct species, closely related to the Australian sea lion. Paleoclimate reconstructions suggest that N. palatina was more tolerant of cold water temperatures than N. cinerea, the only other known member of the genus.

Porpoise Bay (New Zealand)

Porpoise Bay is in the Catlins, on the southern coast of New Zealand's South Island. The bay sweeps gently from North Head, at the entrance to Waikawa Harbour, around to South Head. A campground overlooking the bay is situated on South Head, which separates Porpoise Bay from Curio Bay.

A pod of endangered Hector's dolphins live here; dolphin-watching tours are conducted by boat from Waikawa, but they also can often be seen from the beach. In 2007, the Department of Conservation proposed including the bay in a group of new sanctuaries designed to protect marine mammals, some calling for a complete ban on set nets. Local fishermen protested, fearing for their livelihood.

Other notable wildlife regularly seen are yellow-eyed penguin, blue penguin, New Zealand fur seal, and New Zealand sea lion.

Sea lion

Sea lions are sea mammals characterized by external ear flaps, long foreflippers, the ability to walk on all fours, short, thick hair, and a big chest and belly. Together with the fur seals, they comprise the family Otariidae, eared seals, which contains six extant and one extinct species (the Japanese sea lion) in five genera. Their range extends from the subarctic to tropical waters of the global ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the notable exception of the northern Atlantic Ocean. They have an average lifespan of 20–30 years. A male California sea lion weighs on average about 300 kg (660 lb) and is about 8 ft (2.4 m) long, while the female sea lion weighs 100 kg (220 lb) and is 6 ft (1.8 m) long. The largest sea lion is Steller's sea lion, which can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and grow to a length of 10 ft (3.0 m). Sea lions consume large quantities of food at a time and are known to eat about 5–8% of their body weight (about 15–35 lb (6.8–15.9 kg)) at a single feeding. Sea lions can go around 16 knots in water and at their fastest they can go up to 30 knots. Three species, the Australian sea lion, the Galápagos sea lion and the New Zealand sea lion are listed as Endangered.

Extant Carnivora species

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