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Pinnipednesday - Phocarctos hookeri Edition

Still rare, but below the equator.

The New Zealand Sea Lion (Phocarctos hookeri) can be found primarily in the subantarctic Campbell and Auckland islands of New Zealand, and to a lesser extent, the Stewart and South islands. They are descended from a subantarctic population that replaced the mainland population that were likely hunted to extinction by the indigenous people of the islands between 1300 and 1500 A.D. The Maori call the New Zealand Sea Lion whakahao, but it's also known Hooker's Sea Lion, after a British botanist who went to New Zealand with an expedition in 1844.


Adult male New Zealand Sea Lions can grow to 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) in body length, weighing 992 pounds (450 kg). They have dark brown coats and thick, furry shoulders. Females are roughly half their size, growing to 6.5 feet (2 meters) and weighing about 364 pounds (165 kg). Females are lighter in color, either gray or buff. New Zealand Sea Lions prefer to haul out on flat, sandy beaches, and adults will often wander as far inland as 1.2 miles (2 km), and rest in grass or forests.

New Zealand Sea Lions feed on a variety of invertebrates, including squid, octopus, mussels and crabs, as well as vertebrates like small fish. The largest segment of the overall population is made up of three large colonies in the Auckland Islands, which is where 95% of the breeding takes place. Overall, there are only about 10,000 New Zealand Sea Lions left in the wild, which makes them the rarest sea lion in the world.


Breeding and pupping takes place between November and January, with the males establishing their territories by fighting. Large males in charge of territories are called beach masters, and they have the exclusive right to breed with the females in their harem. They pay a price for this, because they cannot leave their territories during this season and go out to sea to feed, or else they would lose their harems. They survive on their blubber stores for roughly three months. Females give birth to a single pup, and after two weeks they will leave the pup alone on shore while they go to feed. The pups aren't fully weaned until they are about eight months old, and sometimes a year old.


New Zealand Sea Lions are considered to be a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and they are listed as threatened under New Zealand's Marine Mammals Protection Act. It has been illegal to kill a New Zealand Sea Lion since 1893, but they are often victims of by-catch, especially as commercial fishing has increased in the waters around New Zealand since 1970. The sea lions suffered a devastating mass die-off in 1998, the cause of which is unknown, but accounted for more than half of the pups born that year as well as a significant percentage of the adults. The fishing industry has been under increasing pressure to develop net-free fishing methods, and marine mammal escape devices (SLEDs) are in use and being further developed.


Source for all images used in this post.

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