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Sea lions sleeping on a beach in Otago
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Sea lions sleeping on a beach in Otago. Credit: Craig McKenzie


Sea Lions

Conservation area:

New Zealand sea lions were once found all around our coast, but they’re now only one step away from extinction. One of the threats to their survival is the squid fishery that operates in their main breeding grounds around the Subantarctic Islands. 

Why it matters

Sea lions once lived around the entire coastline of New Zealand, but hunting nearly killed them all. Now, they mostly breed on the remote Subantarctic Auckland Islands.

Sea lion pup on the beach in Otago

The New Zealand sea lion is one of the rarest sea lions in the world. Credit: Craig McKenzie

In the last ten years, more than 700 sea lions are thought to have been killed in the Subantarctic squid trawl fishery. Many killed are female, likely to have a nursing pup waiting back onshore, and nearly always pregnant. Three lives in one go.

In 2007, the trawlers introduced a new piece of equipment into their nets. Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs) are steel grills that are supposed to force a sea lion out of a trawl net before it drowns.

Our sea lions are the deepest divers of all sea lion species. If they’re caught in a trawl net or collide with a SLED, they may be fatally injured, or not have enough air to get back to the surface. We don’t know how many meet this fate because sea lions which disappear at sea can’t be accounted for. We need to know if SLEDs work before we rely on them to help save this species.

You can help sea lions by avoiding eating trawl caught squid. Read more in our Best Fish Guide.

What Forest & Bird is doing

  • We are campaigning for Government and the fishing industry to adopt a Zero Bycatch Goal.
  • We want the industry to shift towards jigging - a squid fishing method that doesn’t kill sea lions
  • The Department of Conservation needs to have more resources and ability to protect sea lions

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