10 facts about New Zealand sea lions

female sea lion
Fascinating Facts

The New Zealand sea lion, also known as rāpoka or whakahao, is one of the rarest sea lion species in the world. It is a unique species found exclusively in New Zealand, with a population of approximately 12,000 individuals. 

The New Zealand sea lion is more than just a cute face - there are lots of intriguing features that make this creature special. Here are some things that you might not know about this amazing marine mammal.

1. Unique Physical Features 

The New Zealand sea lion is distinguishable from other native marine mammals due to its size and physical features. They have a distinctive broad head, long snout, and large eyes. They are larger than New Zealand fur seals and can be found on sandy beaches in New Zealand, while fur seals are typically found on rocky shorelines.

2. Dimorphic

New Zealand sea lions have sexual dimorphism, i.e. males and females are physically different. Male sea lions are notably larger and darker than females. You can see that in the photos on this page, the one at the top is a female and the one below a male

3. National Vulnerability

The New Zealand sea lion's conservation status is listed as nationally vulnerable. This means that the species is facing high risk of extinction in the medium term.

4. Endemic Species

The New Zealand sea lion is an endemic species, meaning that it is only found in New Zealand. Archaeological evidence suggests that they were once present all around the New Zealand coastline. 

5. Found in Various Locations

While most of the population of New Zealand sea lions are now found on our sub-Antarctic islands, particularly Auckland and Campbell Islands, there are emerging breeding locations at Stewart Island/Rakiura, Otago, and Southland regions.

Sea lion
© Lou Sanson/WWF

Male sea lion (female pictured above).

6. Main Breeding Colony in Decline

The main breeding colony of New Zealand sea lions on Auckland Island is in decline. The latest survey found 25% fewer pups than expected. This is a significant threat to the species as this breeding colony is essential to the continuation of the species.

7. Threats from Diseases

Diseases pose a significant threat to the New Zealand sea lion. Two recorded outbreaks of bacterial infections have occurred within the New Zealand sea lion colonies, resulting in significant pup mortality rates.

8. Fisheries Interactions

The Subantarctic squid, the scampi trawl fisheries, and the southern blue whiting fishery are among the main fisheries that operate within the New Zealand sea lion’s foraging range. Encounters with fishing vessels fisheries can lead to by catch (accidental capture) and competition for food.

9. Human Impacts

Road accidents and human activities that lead to reduced rest and sleep can harm New Zealand sea lions. Increasing plastic pollution in the ocean is also having an impact on sea lions.

10. Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts, such as setting a maximum limit on sea lion deaths, implementing sea lion exclusion devices on fishing vessels, and establishing guidelines for public viewing, are in place to protect the species. They are vital to ensure their survival of this species and its role in the marine ecosystem.

At WWF, we believe that together, we can make a difference for our planet's most threatened species and help protect our oceans.

With your support, we can ensure that species like sea lions, penguins, and dolphins are not lost forever. Your donation today will help us protect and restore our ocean, make fishing more sustainable, and restore degraded habitats. By supporting our research, advocacy, and conservation programmes, you can help save taonga species from extinction and reverse the damage to the oceans.  

Please donate today and help protect our precious marine species