Street Closed to Protect a Sea Lion in New Zealand

When there's a will, a whole village can unite to care for the animals they live with.
Street Closed to Protect a Sea Lion in New Zealand
Ana Díaz Maqueda

Written and verified by the biologist Ana Díaz Maqueda.

Last update: 08 November, 2022

If extraordinary measures aren’t taken, many species that are currently endangered will eventually disappear sooner or later. This is what Dunedin City Council officials must have been thinking when they decided to close an entire street to protect a sea lion that is breeding there.

Although this area of New Zealand’s coastline has many sea lions, one has never bred farther from the beach, let alone had to cross a road to get to the shore. The decision of this local council should be applauded and the residents’ reaction too.

Everything needed to protect a sea lion in New Zealand

A female sea lion gave birth in the bushes next to the 13th hole of a golf course in Dunedin, New Zealand. After the news broke, officials from the local Department of Conservation went to the area.

Jim Fyfe, a ranger with the department, said that as long as golfers keep a safe distance and don’t are careful not to hit their balls at the nesting site, coexistence shouldn’t be a problem.

In fact, some 20 births are expected this year and, due to the lack of natural space, it isn’t uncommon for females to give birth on the golf course. The problem comes when the mother and pup take their daily walks to the coast. To do so, they have to cross a busy road, where the chances of being run over are really high.

For this reason, and because of the respect and consideration that this town has for the sea lions, the town council has decided to close this street to the circulation of vehicles for a whole month to avoid accidents. After this time, the mother and pup will no longer depend on the nest and won’t need to cross the street.

A sea lion.

A permanent measure?

Taking into account this anecdotal situation, many citizens of Dunedin want this rule to become law. In this way, the road would be closed to motor vehicle traffic, which would prevent the death of many other animals.

At the same time, people would be able to walk and cycle. However, dogs must be kept on a leash at all times, something that is strongly emphasized by the rangers.

In addition, no one may come within 20 meters (66 feet) of the sea lions. According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1978, it’s strictly forbidden to disturb, harass, or harm sea lions in any way.

Protecting sea lions is a priority for local government, which will sentence anyone who kills a sea lion to two years in jail or a fine of up to $178,000.

Why so much consideration for the New Zealand sea lion?

The New Zealand sea lion ( Phocarctos hookeri ) is in a very delicate state of conservation according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Also, the World Wildlife Fund reports that there are only about 10,000 of them left, making it the most endangered sea lion species on the planet.

The decline of this species began in the early 19th century, as a result of overexploitation in the commercial hunting of seals and sea lions. Today, the distribution of this species is restricted to two small separate areas.

This fact, coupled with the low number of individuals, leads to inbreeding and, as a consequence, the loss of genetic diversity that makes the species more vulnerable to disease, environmental changes, and human activity.

Although the sea lions are now protected, the commercial trawl fishery accidentally kills around 90 sea lions each year. Similarly, overfishing leaves sea lions without food, which can lead to deaths from starvation.

At the beginning of the 21st century, several outbreaks of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae resulted in the death of at least 50% of the pups at that time.

There’s no doubt that the conservation status of this species is critical. Measures such as closing an entire street to protect the female sea lion and her offspring are undoubtedly necessary.

A sea lion.

These actions not only protect living beings, but also raise awareness of the havoc that humans wreak on the environment. The fact that an animal has had no place to breed other than the bushes on a golf course speaks volumes about the state of nature.

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