Attack on fur seal colony - expert responds
23 New Zealand fur seal pups and adults were found clubbed to death this morning at Ohau Point, near Kaikoura.The Department of Conservation has issued a press release with further details of the incident. (Contact the Science Media Centre to have a copy forwarded to you).
We asked a wildlife management and fur seal genetics expert to provide context. Feel free to use his comments in your coverage.
Dr Bruce Robertson, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, University of Otago comments:
"Fur seals numbers are gradually increasing around NZ following their near extirpation due to indiscriminate sealing in the 1800s. Many of the breeding colonies that we have now, have only recently been recolonised. For example, Ohau Point became a breeding colony in 1990 and in 2004 there were an estimated 600 pups born there."
"While 23 seals were killed (as reported), the real number of deaths is likely to be greater.
"This is because females at this time of year are most likely to have a pup and these pups are totally dependent on their mother's milk for survival. So if the mother is killed the pup will die. Also, females mate about a week after giving birth and hence have a developing embryo in the womb (i.e. next year's pup), which also would be killed. The total loss of life is more like: 13 females, 13 dependent pups, 13 developing embryos, plus the 8 pups and the 2 males = 49 fur seals. This does not take into account the future reproductive success of these individuals.
"Given this colony is increasing in size, this loss of life is a small setback. However, large mammal populations cannot sustain the repeated loss of breeding females. Consequently, any external influences can be detrimental."