Dunedin sea lions break breeding record

By Hamish MacLean from

New Zealand sea lion pups from Dunedin have arrived in record numbers.

Department of Conservation staff, along with the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust and Te Runanga o Otakou, marked 20 puppies this summer from St Kilda to Warrington.

DOC biodiversity ranger Jim Fyfe said it was the most successful breeding season for the endangered species since returning to Dunedin shores around 30 years ago.

“I think I finally stopped saying the sea lions are coming back. I’m saying the sea lions are here,” Fyfe said.

“It’s their house.”

The threshold for the DOC to declare Dunedin a breeding colony is 35 pups per year over five years.

Nonetheless, sea lions were making a name for themselves on Dunedin’s beaches and now fifth or sixth generation pups were being born and bred in the town, Fyfe said.

It was increasingly important for people in Dunedin to learn to live alongside wild animals and make room for them, he said.

By nearly three months, the pups were becoming more curious and mobile, and the mothers were using the two major coastal inlets on the Otago Peninsula – Papanui and Hoopers Inlets – as nurseries.

Nationally vulnerable New Zealand sea lion cubs play in the waters of a coastal inlet on the Otago Peninsula.  The Department of Conservation has confirmed that a record 20 puppies have been born in Dunedin this year.

Nationally vulnerable New Zealand sea lion cubs play in the waters of a coastal inlet on the Otago Peninsula. The Department of Conservation has confirmed that a record 20 puppies have been born in Dunedin this year.
Photo: Otago Daily Times / Peter McIntosh

While the mothers went in search of food for the day, the coves offered protection from various threats to the cubs, including large male sea lions.

However, motorists were not a threat that figured into the sea lion mothers’ calculations, he said.

The DOC asked drivers in the area to watch for sea lions along the road.

The DOC had installed temporary fencing and was working with Dunedin City Council to set up road signs and road cones pointing out hotspots, ‘but the truth is sea lions could show up on any of these roads’ .

Additionally, because the puppies were curious, stopping a nearby vehicle could attract the puppies, luring them closer to danger.

“It’s a wild animal and we are so lucky to have them.

“Be discreet and try to be invisible while observing animals,” Fyfe said.

“It’s not about you, it’s about being able to see wild animals.”

The number of sea lion pups born in Dunedin has been limited to mid-teens in recent years.

Previously, 17 was the highest number of registered puppies in the city.

*This story was first published on the Otago Daily Times website.