Topics > Plants & animals > Living with wildlife > Seals

Frequently asked questions

Long-nosed fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) are native to south-eastern Australia. They are found all along the South Australian coast, where they come into frequent contact with fishers, water users and beachgoers.

Where do long-nosed fur seals come from?

Long-nosed fur seals are native to South Australia. They are not an introduced species and are a natural part of our marine environment.

They were originally called black fur seals then New Zealand fur seals. This was meant to differentiate them from Australian fur seals and was based on the fact that the species was first described in New Zealand.Are they protected?

Yes. Fines of up to $100,000 apply for killing or harming them.

Are they threatened?

No, but most native wildlife species, including long-nosed fur seals are protected by State and federal law. This protection ensures that native wildlife and habitats are conserved and managed, and that human interactions with wildlife are humane and will not threaten survival of sustainable populations into the future.

How many are there?

There are about 100,000 long-nosed fur seals in South Australia. The South Australian population makes up about 83 per cent of the total number of long-nosed fur seals in Australia.

Where are they?

Fur seals are known to travel widely and visit all areas of the South Australian coast. About 98 per cent of fur seal pup production is concentrated in breeding colonies on Kangaroo Island and off the south coast of Eyre Peninsula.

Are their numbers increasing?

Research shows that long-nosed fur seal numbers have increased by about 5.5 per cent per year over the past 25 years. However, the current rate of increase is lower than this long-term average.

Are they over-abundant?

No. The fur seal population is recovering after being hunted nearly to extinction in the early 19th century.

How many seals were there in the pre-sealing days?

There are no figures available, but sealers sent at least 100,000 skins from the Kangaroo Island region between 1800 and 1830.

Were there always seals in the Coorong?

Reports of fur seals appearing in the Coorong began about 2007. Seals are inquisitive creatures and they will explore new territory.

It also is important to remember that the Coorong is a vastly different environment from what it was in the 19th century due to human factors such as the construction of barrages and changes in water quality.

Is there a breeding colony in the Coorong?

No. The seals in the Coorong are juveniles and sub-adults that are not breeding. Fur seal behaviour indicates that this is a transient population, with individual animals coming and going regularly from the area.

Although some small seals have been seen in the Coorong, these are not pups, which are initially raised on land. Fur seals breed in colonies on very specific types of rocky shore-sites that do not occur in the Coorong. The rocky limestone outcrops in the Coorong are unlikely to be suitable as breeding sites.

What do fur seals eat?

Fur seals mostly hunt in the open ocean. Most foraging takes place in outer shelf and oceanic waters between 50 and 1000 km off the coast. Some juvenile and sub-adult males move into coastal waters over winter months. Analysis of seal scats has shown that their diet mainly consists of redbait, jack mackerel, lantern fish, arrow squid and other small bait fish.

Do they take fish from nets in the Coorong?

Fur seals are opportunistic feeders and will take fish such as mulloway and golden perch from nets if they have the chance. The seals currently living in the Coorong have learned that dead fish are readily available in fishers’ gill nets.

What is being done to help fishers in the Coorong?

The South Australian Government, through DEWNR and PIRSA are currently working closely with the Southern Fishermen’s Association (SFA) to develop non-lethal, humane methods of managing interactions between seals and fishers in the Coorong.

This includes funding research into fishing gear transformations and methods that will keep seals away from catches, and a trial of small underwater crackers that could be used to deter the animals. Experience in other fishing industries has shown humane, non-lethal methods such as these to be effective.

What is being done about seals more generally?

DEWNR is working with Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA), through its divisions the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries to examine the impacts of seals on these industries and develop a state-wide policy to manage interactions with them.

Will seals be culled?

The South Australian Government does not support seal culling. Culling marine mammals is against wider community values and could damage the State’s reputation as a food producer and tourist destination.

Overseas and interstate experience has shown this to be an ineffective way of reducing the impact on fisheries. Culling single animals from certain areas simply leaves an opening for others to move in and take advantage of the available food.

Overseas seal culls have concentrated on removing large numbers of young seals – including pups – from breeding colonies. Such culling operations have been extremely unpopular.

Seal products are currently banned in the European Union, and surviving overseas sealing industries are heavily subsidised. These factors indicate that commercial sealing would not be profitable or socially acceptable.

Could seals be relocated or sterilised?

Both capturing and sterilising seals has been shown to be ineffective, potentially harmful to the seal, and extremely resource intensive.

Interstate experience shows that if seals are relocated, they quickly return to their original locations. Seals relocated to distances of 400km have returned to their original location in as little as four days, though most take seven to 10 days to return. Some seals have been relocated six times in a year, with some being relocated up to 50 times in their lifetimes.

Do fur seals eat seabirds?

Fur seals will sometimes take small seabirds such as penguins, gulls and shearwaters, but these form a small part of their diet. Scientific observations have suggested that some seals learn the behaviour and do it more frequently than others.

Are pelicans at risk from seals in the Coorong?

The Coorong pelican population is strong and healthy, varying between 2000 and 4000 birds, depending on inland water conditions. The population is regularly monitored and there are no indications that its long-term health is at risk, from fur seal predation or any other cause.

Seals are specialised marine hunters that are at their fastest and most manoeuvrable in open water. There is some anecdotal evidence that they attack pelicans in the water, but biting or chasing individual birds does not mean there is any risk to the overall population. Seals are unlikely to pose a risk to pelican rookeries as they are not likely to hunt on land.

Is the State’s little penguin population at risk from seals?

There is a number of healthy little penguin breeding colonies in South Australia and some of these colonies co-exist with large populations of long-nosed fur seals. Nationwide, there are many large little penguin colonies, particularly on Philip Island and Gabo Island in Victoria, and in Tasmania.

The penguin colonies on Kangaroo Island and Granite Island have shown a marked decline in recent years, though research has been unable to attribute this decline to any single cause. Fur seals are known to eat penguins, but they typically form a minor part of a seal’s diet. Seal predation is just one of a number of factors impacting on penguin numbers. Predation by introduced species such as cats, foxes, rats and dogs, problems with parasites and disease, human disturbance, entanglement in nets and fishing debris, malnutrition due to fluctuations in their food source, and habitat loss are all threats to little penguin colonies.

Are seals a risk to humans?

People should not approach fur seals. They are large, powerful animals and like any wild animal, they can react aggressively if they feel threatened. If they are left alone, they do not usually pose a threat to humans.

We should always keep our distance from any marine mammal, but this is more for their protection than ours. On land, seals are at risk of being attacked by dogs, and in the sea, they may be hit by boats.

Do not get closer than 30 m to a seal if it is on land. In the water, prescribed vessels like jet skis and ski boats must stay 300 m away from seals, while motorised vessels, sail boats and kayaks should not get any closer than 50 m. Swimmers should stay at least 30 m away.

When a seal is on shore, people should not get between it and the water because the seal could become frightened and flee to the water whether or not there is a person in the way.

Is it OK to feed seals?

No. You should never feed any marine mammals. Feeding seals and dolphins can make them dependent on humans or lead to them trying to take fish from fishers’ lines.