Sunday, 20 January 2013

Kangaroo Island: Fur-seals and Sea-lions

Looks like I have a bit of catching up to do.  The last couple of months I have been on my travels, first to South Australia and Kangaroo Island, then back to the UK (via Hong Kong) for a wonderful 'proper' cold, damp, traditional Christmas with the family.  Arriving back in Australia in the middle of a massive heatwave is taking some getting used to!

Although this blog is now named 'Brisbane Adventures', it is really simply about the wonderful experiences of nature I have living here in Australia.  For that reason I certainly couldn't visit Kangaroo Island in South Australia and not write about it - its a nature wonderland.  In fact, so much so I think a single post won't do it justice!

Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island

Many people visit Kangaroo Island to encounter the Fur-seals and Sea-lions that live on the South coast.  There are three species that have set up home here: Sea-lions, New Zealand Fur-seals and Australian Fur-seals.  Although the tourist guides don't warn you about the smell - the colony really stinks!  The easiest way to tell them apart is mainly by colour (information from a Flinders Chase National Park notice board at Admirals Arch at the Cape du Couedic, where my photos were taken):

  • Australian sea-lion females and juveniles are very pale, almost white.  The bulls are dark, with a contrasting cream mane.
  • New Zealand fur-seals range in colour from dark grey to brown.  They have a long narrow pointed face with an upturned nose.
  • Australian fur-seals range in colour from light sandy-brown to grey-brown.  Their head is broader and shorter than New Zealand fur-seals.  
I hope my IDs below are correct!

Australian sea-lion

Australian fur-seal
NZ (left) and Australian (right) fur-seals fighting for their spot on the rocks

New Zealand fur-seal

Seals and Sea-lions surf the enormous waves to crash-land on the rocks

Aww.. a cute little Australian fur-seal (a pup or maybe a female)

All three species were severely hunted to the verge of extinction in the past following European settlement - seal fur and blubber was Australia's first export industry - and so today they are a protected species.  In particular, the Australian sea-lion is classed as vulnerable and declining, with an estimated 14,000 individuals in the wild.  However, their conservation status on Kangaroo Island and the relative abundance of the fur-seals and sea-lions now poses a major threat to the lovable Fairy Penguins, who also inhabit the island.  We went on a Penguin Tour at Penneshaw during our stay, and saw around 12 penguins: parents returning from a day at sea to feed their young.  Not long ago, there were hundreds of penguins all around this little coastal town, found up to 2km inland.  Now, they are all but gone and our guide was absolutely ecstatic to see 12:  it was the most she had seen in one night in her year on the job!  Many tours don't see any - which is a severe disappointment and a serious conservation concern.


  1. Surely, as long as this is due to competition between naturally occurring species, this is simply "Nature, red in tooth and claw" rather than a matter of conservation concern. If, however it is something to do with dodgy practices by humanity - and I can't suggest what they might be in the vicinity of Penneshaw, aorta (quoting Prof. Afferbeck Lauder)do something!


  2. Hi Martin, I mean it is of conservation concern as Little (Fairy) Penguins are likely to become locally extinct, and in the context of both the KI tourist industry and declining populations throughout their range I think that is a concern (although the species is not endangered). However, its true, maybe there was never a large penguin population on KI before Europeans came along. The seal trade probably led to a boom in Fairy Penguin numbers, but now conservation of both seals and penguins is resulting in penguin numbers plummeting towards local extinction. Other factors probably also come into it (e.g. the Penneshaw colony is adjacent to the ferry terminal!).

  3. Thanks Hazel. I reckon I would have a good hard look/listen for the impact of the noise from the ferries as a contributing factor to the penguins moving on. I have only been to KI once but my suspicion is that there is a heap of good penguin breeding habitat around the island and much of it will never have been investigated.