Australian sea lions only live in southern Australia. They are a threatened species with the total population in 2005 estimated to be only 11,200.
Populations were decimated by hunting in the 1800’s. In one example approximately 3000 sea lion pelts were taken from the islands of the Recherche Archipelago in Western Australia. This is roughly the current population estimate for the entire southern Western Australian coast.
The sea lion population has not recovered from sealing, and now there are concerning signs of decline. The entanglement in fishing equipment, particularly shark gill nets is a major concern.
According to the Environment Department website the reported annual kill rate is at least 1.3% of the population, the third highest for any pinniped (seals, sea lions, walruses) in the world.
However, a report in April 2010 revealed that each breeding season 374 sea lions were being killed in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark fishery. A breeding season is 17.5 months, so this equates to around 256 seals per year. I think this would make the annual kill rate over 2.2% of population from this fishery alone.
I couldn’t find any data on kills in the South Coast (WA) and West Coast gill net fisheries. The only estimate in the State of the Fisheries Report was from the ‘mid to late 1990s’ and stated that ‘marine mammals were caught at a rate of just over 1 per 10,000 km gillnet hours’. I’m not sure how many 10,000km gillnet hours there were or if any of these were sea lions (dolphins are also taken). Will look into this more. Also, there are no observers on these vessels and fishing locations have changed since the 1990’s, so it is also difficult to be sure of the accuracy of this number.
Offshore and deep water oil spills are also an increasing risk to many Australian sea lion colonies as the industry expands into the South West.
Despite these appalling statistics, the current proposed marine sanctuaries plan for the South West from the Federal Government fails to protect Australian sea lions. Only 4% of Australian sea lion feeding areas are protected.
So where is protection required? Whilst the majority of Australian sea lions live in South Australia, there are four distinct populations that require protection.
The four broad populations are:
(i) South Australia,
(ii) WA South coast (Recherche Archipelago and west to Fitzgerald River National Park),
(iii) WA west coast (3 Breeding colonies, 2 in the Jurien Bay Marine Park and one at the Beagle Islands)
(iv) Abrolhos Islands.
The following table breaks down the lack of protection of Australian sea lions habitats in the Federal Government’s proposed plan.
In addition to these four broad populations it is important to note that Female Australian sea lions will only breed at the colony where they were born, making every breeding location very important. Smaller colonies are particularly vulnerable to fishing related deaths because it will be a bigger overall impact on that colony.
It is also worth noting that the Abrolhos Islands and West Coast populations feed primarily in shallow state waters making commonwealth waters less important, but also noting that very little of their habitat is protected ion state waters either.
You can take action to ensure critical areas for Australian Sea Lions and other marine life in the South West are adequately protected in a network of marine sanctuaries via Save Our Marine Life , Care2 and CCWA.