The world's rarest sea lion species.
With your support, we're trying to save New Zealand sea lions.
New Zealand sea lions are in trouble – without protection, they are threatened with extinction
New Zealand sea lions (also known as whakahao/rāpoka or Hooker’s sea lion) are the rarest species of sea lion in the world and the most threatened because of their declining numbers.
Governments, scientists and conservationists recognise that NZ sea lions are under severe threat from disease, accidental death as a result of fisheries by-catch, and habitat change caused by fishing.
Sea lions need more protection, not less, to halt their decline towards extinction.
We have a global responsibility to act now to prevent NZ sea lions from going extinct. They are taonga species, they live only here in New Zealand – if they disappear from our shores, they’re gone forever.
In August 2016, the Department of Conservation (DOC) invited submissions as part of their Consultation on the Threat Management Plan (TMP) for NZ sea lions/rāpoka in August. Click here to read WWF-New Zealand's submission for the draft TMP.
Sea lions are classified by DOC as ‘nationally critical’ – the same level of threat as Māui dolphins and kakapo.
In 2015, the New Zealand sea lion was moved from "vulnerable" to the more serious "endangered" category on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List.
Population & Distribution
They are the world’s most threatened sea lion species, with fewer than 10,000 individuals remaining. At the largest breeding area on the Auckland Islands, pup numbers have declined more by more than 50% since 1998.
New Zealand sea lions primarily inhabit the sub-Antarctic islands and surrounding waters, south of New Zealand, although there are also small colonies found on Stewart Island and along the southeast coast of Otago.
Sea lion populations are plummeting for a number of factors – the biggest threats being commercial fishing and the disease Klebsiella.
The science shows that fishing is the number one human-induced threat to New Zealand sea lions. They can become caught and drown in fishing nets, and they have to compete for food with commercial fishers. Fishing vessels drag large trawl nets through the waters around the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands at depths of around 200m to catch squid - at the same depths sea lions swim and hunt for food.
There are significant uncertainties about how many sea lions are being killed by fishing nets. Sea lion exclusion devices (or SLEDs) are intended to push the sea lions up and out of the net. Fishing is virtually unrestricted because the fishing industry and government assume that the SLEDs work. While these devices may help reduce sea lion deaths, their effectiveness is un-proven. Scientists are concerned that SLEDs may be ‘masking’ the problem by allowing drowned or injured sea lions to exit the net uncounted. Scientists also have concerns that sea lions might be injured by the SLEDs or die after they escape the nets because they are held under the water for too long.
Sea lions eat species, such as southern arrow squid, that are also targeted by trawl fishing fleets. Intensive fishing in their foraging grounds may be driving the nutritional stress seen in adult femails, and the starvation of sea lion pups.
WWF wants the population of NZ sea lions to recover, and for this to happen, urgent government action is needed to take precautionary measures to limit the impact of fishing.
On 20 June 2016, the government released its draft Threat Management Plan for New Zealand sea lions and launched a public Consultation Process.
Backed by robust scientific research, WWF-New Zealand made a submission (August 2016) to the government, which provided analysis and recommendations urgin the government to address the primary human-caused threats from fishing.
We have also called on the government to address important research gaps as an immediate priority, including answering:
- how many sea lions are coming into trawl nets (what’s the interaction rate)?
- how effective are SLEDs in preventing sea lion dying in nets?
- how much impact is fishing having on the nutrition and population growth rates of sea lions?
It is important that New Zealanders urge the government to do more to reduce the human impact on NZ sea lions and help save them from extinction.