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Disease is killing 600 sea lion pups at AK Islands

Disease is killing 600 sea lion pups at the Auckland Islands each year.

The disease Klebsiella pneumoniae is killing Auckland Island sea lions in unsustainable numbers.

The Deepwater Group, which represents the squid fishing fleet off the Auckland Islands, has written to Conservation Minister Nick Smith on the eve of his departure for the Southern Ocean on HMNZS Wellington today.

It has requested the government intervene to save the endangered New Zealand sea lion population which uses the Auckland Islands as its main breeding ground.

Deepwater CEO, George Clement says that in the 1990s, around 34 per cent of sea lions survived to breeding age. 

“A bacterial disease, Klebsiella pneumoniae, somehow got into this population around 13 years ago.  It is killing a third or more of the pups before they reach the age of two – leaving fewer than 15 per cent to survive to breeding age,” George Clement says. 

“This means that in the early 1990s around 900 pups survived to breeding age each year and now only around 200 pups are surviving to breed.  As a result, this population is in decline.”

“As alarming as these numbers are, the real situation could yet prove to be worse because we have already lost many of the sea lions which would now be breeding.  Unless we roll up our sleeves and do something to halt the effects of this epidemic on the pups, this population is likely to decline further before it can increase.”

George Clement says the seafood industry has told Nick Smith that it is offering to work with government and with experts in veterinary science, animal husbandry and in treating animal diseases, to find practical solutions to save the sea lions.

“Interventions are urgently needed that will prevent this disease from reducing the population further.  Klebsiella infections in humans can be treated with antibiotics, so a way has to be found to prevent the young sea lions dying before they leave for sea.”

“In the past, the seafood industry has been blamed as the main threat to sea lions.  But when 600 pups die each year from disease and 15 adults are killed by fishing, it is evident this population will continue to decline, even if there are no further deaths from fishing.”

“As an industry we’ve invested a huge amount over the past ten years to reduce incidental sea lion bycatch in our catch management, in particular refining the Sea Lion Escape Devices (SLEDs) which have drastically reduced the risk to the sea lions from fishing,” George Clement says.

“But this disease is a much bigger threat than fishing ever was.  We want to work together with government and experts in various disease disciplines, both from New Zealand and overseas, and any NGOs as well, to save the unique New Zealand sea lions from extinction”.

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1. In the above figures ‘Pups’ are -0-2 years, ‘Juveniles’ are 2-5 years and ‘Adults’ are 5+ years.
2. Only 34% and 14% of the pups become adults (i.e. ‘Survive to Breed’).
3. Of these adults, some die from fishing. The 5% and 1% estimates of sea lions that ‘Die from Fishing’ are expressed as proportions of the numbers of pups born, not as proportions of the numbers of adults (hence the numbers in the in the figures exceed 100%).


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