New Zealand sea lions are back, and golf courses and football games are collapsing

They surprised public toilet users by their sudden appearances and stopped a children’s football game while walking on the ground. The...


They surprised public toilet users by their sudden appearances and stopped a children’s football game while walking on the ground. They frolic in a community pool and shut down an urban road for weeks. One of them even gave birth near the 13th hole of a golf course.

Sea lions once thrived along New Zealand’s coasts. But for hundreds of years, human hunting reduced their numbers and drove them to subantarctic islands hundreds of kilometers to the south. Over the past few decades, animals – which are one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world – have slowly and unexpectedly started to return to mainland New Zealand.

It is a story of preserving hope and possibility. But with many former sea lion breeding grounds now populated by humans, scientists say New Zealanders will have to learn to share this time around.

A to study published Sunday in Methods in Ecology and Evolution suggests a new way of doing it – by combining algorithmic modeling that predicts where species will settle with information on the ground from those who regularly encounter wildlife.

Man-made hazards such as roads and fences, which don’t always show up on maps, can be ignored in algorithmic modeling, meaning that predictions of where sea lions will roam can be very distant. By working closely with rangers and sea lion experts, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, which has helped fund the research, hopes to better identify attractive habitats and spot potential threats to animals in a way more precise and realistic than before.

“This will especially help to raise awareness and engage the public and know which communities to target as the population increases,” said Laura Boren, science adviser for the conservation agency. “We can prepare people to welcome sea lions to their city. “

No part of New Zealand being more than about 80 miles of the sea and children learning the names of native trees and birds at school, Ms Boren added that many New Zealanders have a keen interest in conservation, which makes them well positioned to adapt to sharing beaches and hikes with cheeky and curious sea lions.

Some human encounters have been fanciful – an animal caused the closure of a saltwater pool in the city of Dunedin, on the country’s South Island, when it bask near the paddling pool and had to be made to leave the complex through the electronic gates. But sea lions have sometimes been deliberately killed or struck by cars. A road closure for a month to protect a mother and her puppy in January, also in Dunedin, caused some frustration among locals.

“We have to educate people that these guys are supposed to be here,” said Louise Chilvers, an environmentalist at Massey University in New Zealand who was not involved in the research. “They are animals, they are part of the ecosystem. You respect them, and they will respect you.

Sea lions are not aggressive, but larger males can get as heavy as cows. Their bulk, as well as their loud growls when startled, can be intimidating.

The new model for predicting suitable habitats has shown that integrating sea lions in New Zealand will require some creativity. Veronica Frans, lead author of the study and holder of a doctorate. studying quantitative ecology at Michigan State University, found 395 sites identified as suitable habitats for New Zealand sea lions using algorithm-based modeling. But when the study’s additional data from sources such as rangers and scientists were factored in, the relevance of 90 percent of the locations was called into question due to human impact, such as roads. and fences.

Why these sea lions, which are estimated to number around 10,000 animals, return to New Zealand from their subantarctic island habitat is something of a mystery. The first woman made a pilgrimage to the mainland to give birth to a calf in 1993, and restocking has been slow.

Their return home is all the more curious as sea lions are very philopatric, which means that they tend to breed very close to their place of birth, sometimes a few hundred meters away.

But given the harsh climate of the subantarctic islands and the more abundant fish stocks in the warmer waters of the mainland, the animals are doing better in their original homes – humans and all, said Dr Chilvers.

“They are coming back whether we like it or not,” she added.

But planning the return of sea lions doesn’t necessarily mean humans have to abandon swathes of New Zealand’s coast, Ms Frans said.

“It’s difficult because we imagine that protected areas are areas that kick people out, but people are allowed to integrate into those places,” she said, adding that she had recently heard of signs that help drivers in parts of New Zealand share the roads with sea lions. “It’s more than finding a balance.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New Zealand sea lions are back, and golf courses and football games are collapsing
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