Seal Population Recovering From Near Extinction

In 2015, one lucky baby seal that was badly injured after a shark attack and found in a rock pool at Malabar made a full recovery after being treated at Taronga Wildlife Hospital. But did you know that from the early 1800s to the early 20th century, Australian fur seals and sea lions were almost hunted to extinction?

In the early 1800s, fur seals and sea lions were commercially hunted for their hides and were even culled because they were thought to be competing with local fishermen. Almost a million skins were known to have been traded from Australia and New Zealand during that time. And by the early 20th century, their population dwindled to just about 20,000.

Thanks to conservation efforts, their population somewhat recovered from near extinction. According to a study published in 2015 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, the total population of long-nosed fur seals across Australia and New Zealand was estimated to be around 200,000.

The Australian sea lion population, however, is still far from making a full recovery; in fact, they are declining. Research published last year in Endangered Species Research estimated that based on data from 80 breeding sites, the Australian sea lion population has declined by 64 per cent over the last four decades.

In Sydney, there have been several pinniped sightings in the past years, including the one found at Malabar. But unlike the baby seal at Malabar, a seal spotted in 2018 was not as lucky. Nicknamed “Sealvester”, the animal died just a few weeks after the City of Sydney put up a fence below the stairway to prevent him from entering Rushcutters Bay Park. He had wounds on his eye and flippers and was found to be underweight.

But perhaps the most talked about sighting of them all was that of a long-nosed fur seal who found his way onto the Sydney Opera House in 2014. “Benny” has been a frequent visitor and has been delighting Sydneysiders since then.

Australian fur seals are mostly found throughout the islands of Bass Strait, and parts of Tasmania, South Australia, Southern Victoria and southern NSW. Whilst Australian sea lions have restricted distribution in South Australia and Western Australia.

Australian fur seals and sea lions are protected by law.