Environment SA News

Rangers to the rescue as drift rope threatens sea lion pups at Seal Bay

Fast acting rangers on Kangaroo Island are being praised for their efforts removing a massive piece of marine debris that washed up in an important sea lion sanctuary.

Rangers to the rescue as drift rope threatens sea lion pups at Seal Bay

The National Parks and Wildlife Service staff sprang into action to remove a large length of drift rope and netting, estimated to be up to two kilometres long, which washed up on the main beach of Seal Bay Conservation Park.

The rangers acted quickly to secure the debris it before strong tides washed it away.

The removal operation comes amid a bumper start to the breeding season within the Australian sea lion sanctuary with about 200 pups born so far this winter.

Seal Bay is home to the third largest remaining colony of endangered Australian sea lions and estimates suggest about 250 pups will have been born by the end of the pupping season.

If this number is achieved, it will be the third season in a row with increased pup production, indicating the Seal Bay colony could be on the cusp of recovery.

Where possible, new pups will be microchipped to help monitor the Seal Bay colony, their relationships and mortality and NPWS staff will continue to monitor and support the new arrivals.

Australian sea lions have the second longest gestation period of 17.6 months (behind elephants), so last year’s influx of 6-year-old and 4.5-year-old females has boosted numbers and also resulted in high juvenile survival rates this year.

Seal Bay Conservation Park Research & Operations Coordinator Melanie Stonnill said it was a significantly long line, which could’ve come from as far away as South America.

"There was a really high probability that it would’ve caused harm to a marine animal if we hadn’t been able to remove it," she said.

"Besides the danger of entanglement, there is also the risk of plastic ropes breaking down into micro plastics. These tiny pollutants are then consumed by smaller marine species and birds, poisoning organisms right down from the filter feeds to top order predators such as sea lions and sharks.

"In terms of the pupping season, so far it’s going really well. There’s been some interesting stories from this year, including a case where a female has taken on another female’s pup and is nursing it along with her own, which is rare for otarid seals.

"There is also another case of a female who lost her pup in the perinatal period and has adopted another pup. This pup has been observed nursing from both its biological mother and this other female (a phenomenon called allo-suckling). This is rarely ever seen and is the first time this has been documented at Seal Bay.

"We will need to continue monitoring this populations for years to come, and each year gets a little bit more exciting as we even have some 20 year old animals in the colony who are still breeding and protecting pups."

Want to know more about these playful creatures and their pups? Check out these five things you didn’t know about sea lions and their pups.