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New Zealand fur seal

Current Status

[Photo of baby & adult seal by N. Brothers.]

The New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is listed as rare under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.

Why is it a threatened species?

These seals are listed as threatened in Tasmania because their numbers are low here. They are restricted to only one breeding site within Tasmanian waters, Maatsuyker Island.

Females reach sexual maturity at four years of age and only produce one pup per year so they are slow reproducers. Another threat to seals is their persecution by fishermen who feel seals are a threat to the fishing industry.

How did their numbers get so low?

[Photo of baby & adult seal by N. Brothers.]

All five pinnepeds or eared seals occurring in Australian and New Zealand waters suffered from severe and unregulated exploitation during the early colonisation and economic development of Australia. From about 1798 to 1820 the sealing industry was huge. Initially vessels came from all over the world to seal in Bass Strait because seal numbers were so plentiful. The NZ fur seal was the most prized for its beautiful fur.

Colonial sealing industries were set up in Hobart, Launceston and Sydney. Sydney's first export overseas was seal skins. Competition was intense and the seal numbers were rapidly depleted. Soon sealers had to search further afield in New Zealand and other subAntarctic islands. By 1825 all significant and easily accessible seal colonies had either been severely reduced or eliminated.

Why are their numbers still low?

Although sealing has been prohibited in NZ and all Australian states for at least 50 years, the NZ fur seal is still considered rare here. In Tasmania their numbers may be as low as only several thousand and they have not repopulated traditional areas such as Bass Strait.

One reason for this is they are slow reproducers. Up to 15% of pups die before reaching 2 months of age and more die at sea as a result of net and other marine debris entanglements. Fishermen illegally shoot seals for interfering with fishing gear.

What is being done?

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Several educational programs have been undertaken to try and reduce the amount of marine debris in our waters. One of our wildlife officers developed plastics free bait boxes in conjunction with local industries.

Seal populations are continually monitored and information has been gathered on their diet. It is hoped this information can be used to develop methods to reduce the interaction of seals with fishermen and their gear.

Recommended further reading

Ride WDL, 1970. A Guide To Native Animals Of Australia. Oxford University Press.

FAOG 1982. Mammals in Sea, Vol 4. Food and Agriculture Organisation UN.

Available through Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania

Notesheet. Living With Wildlife: Seals.

Marine debris slide kit.

[Back to List of Threatened Mammals]