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DOC monitoring rāpoka/NZ sea lions in the south

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is monitoring the wellbeing of a small number of rāpoka/New Zealand sea lions after they appear to have reacted to glue used during an external research programme.

Three rāpoka have been spotted with mildly inflamed, bald patches on their backs where satellite tags were attached during research into their foraging behaviour, led by Texas A & M University.

DOC Murihiku Operations Manager John McCarroll says veterinary advice indicates the effects are most likely cosmetic and temporary as the sea lions appear otherwise healthy and their fur appears to be growing back normally, however DOC will continue to keep an eye on them and respond as needed.

“They appear to be otherwise active, in good body condition and foraging normally and we expect improvement over time as the hair grows back on the affected areas.

“We are certainly not seeing any wellbeing issues and have observed improvements in the inflammation area.”

Reactions to glue used during research is rare. The epoxy glue used by the researchers is one that is commonly used on marine mammals around the world including in New Zealand.

This research involved a standard technique of mounting satellite tags and small cameras attached with neoprene, which were put on earlier in July. Normally they fall off naturally after a couple of months without issue.

DOC is working with the researchers and external experts to understand what may have caused the reaction in some sea lions this time round. One hypothesis is on the amount of glue used.

“The methodologies of any future studies will be adjusted to prevent this occurring again,” John McCarroll says.

The sea lions are part of a research project led and funded by Texas A & M University, which is gathering important data on sea lion foraging behaviour that will be used for future management.

“As sea lion numbers continue to increase around our coastlines this will provide vital information on how they use areas that are often visited by humans, helping inform the future management of sites.”

These females and others around our coastlines will be pupping shortly and it’s important to give them space, keep your distance and keep dogs on a lead.

DOC is keen to hear from people who have seen tagged sealions or females and pups this season. Contact 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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