Australian Sea Lions

The Australian sea lion is one of South Australia's most loved animals and yet, during the 19 century, it was hunted to extinction throughout much of its habitat.

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It is now one of the rarest seal species in the world, inhabiting mainland Australia and offshore islands. Of the remaining 15,000 animals in the wild, 85% live and breed in South Australia with 15% located in Western Australia.

Surveys have shown that the key breeding sites are Seal Bay (Kangaroo Island), Dangerous Reef and the Pages Islands (all in SA). These colonies account for 42% of the total population.

Sadly, the colonies at Seal Bay are in decline and research data shows that 60% of all known breeding sites produce 40 or less pups each year. Such low abundance colonies are highly vulnerable.

And why are some sea lion populations in decline? We are not sure. To fully understand the reasons why such a beautiful animal is having problems surviving, and to adopt management plans that will assist in reversing this trend, we need to conduct research.

We need to fully understand the sea lions' breeding biology, the threats that may be posed by fisheries, environmental factors, human disturbance, a potential reduction in food supply and many other facets of the day-to-day life of this fascinating creature.

Through research, we have found that the sea lion has a 17.5 month breeding cycle and pups suckle on their mother's milk for 15-18 months or until the next pup is due to be born. Unfortunately, pup mortality is as high as 20-30% at Seal Bay and even higher at other colonies in some years. Why is this so?

By monitoring trends in abundance, investigating mortality in pups, looking at the role of disease and toxicity in the ecology of the species, by investigating the feeding ecology and foraging behaviour and through conducting ongoing surveys of colonies across the range of this unique animal, we will start to make a difference in the survival of the species.

Research is an expensive activity, but must be undertaken if we are to ensure a future for the species. By donating to the Australian Sea Lion Research Fund, you will be assisting in providing the ongoing research that will help ensure, for the enjoyment of future generations, the proper management and survival of the Australian sea lion.

Donation boxes are located at Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island. You can make a significant contribution by filling out our Australian Sea Lion Research Fund Donation Form or donate online now (a pop-up payment page will appear).

Contributions to the Nature Foundation's Australian Sea Lion Research Fund will go directly towards research projects, providing funds for field researchers and much needed equipment to study movements between colonies, feeding and diving behaviour and breeding success.

Most recent projects include a creating a monitoring plan of the sea lions, investigating their ecology and foraging strategies and assessing population demographics including pup production.

See the October 2015 report by SARDI, 'Maintaining the monitoring of pup production at key Australian sea lion colonies in South Australia'.