28 July 2012

Beanbags proposed to protect penguins from seals

AUSTRALIA - Another suggestion from the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre in South Australia to reduce the number of New Zealand fur seals in the area has received no support from the SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), ABC News reported.

The island's New Zealand fur seal population was almost eradicated by commercial sealing in the 1800s, but their numbers are now about 25,000. While this is good news for the seals, some Kangaroo Island residents believe these predators are responsible for the decline of the local little penguin population, which is a major tourist attraction.

To protect the penguins, the Penguin Centre's owner John Ayliffe proposed firing lead-filled beanbags at the fur seals as a deterrent.

He told ABC News, "The beanbags are simply kevlar bags full of lead shot and they're discharged by a shotgun ... [the beanbag] hits the seal like a punch and it will not penetrate the skin provided it's fired from sensible distances. Now seals are very smart and they move away from an area if disturbed."

However, the DEWNR responded with the following statement:

"Interactions between New Zealand fur seals and penguins are a natural phenomenon over which humans have little control. New Zealand fur seals are native to Australia and New Zealand, including Kangaroo Island waters, and the population is only now recovering from commercial sealing."

New Zealand fur seals are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Earlier in the year, another suggestion from Mr Ayliffe to reduce seal numbers met a similar response. In May, the Sunday Mail reported that, after his request for a seal cull or sterilisation programme was rejected by the DEWNR, Mr Ayliffe proposed a legal harvest of aggressive male seals.

"Harvesting is a major tool used internationally to manage numbers .... Penguin numbers have halved at Kingscote so it is important that seals are managed away from colonies at Kingscote, Penneshaw and Granite Island to ensure tourism assets stay viable," Mr Ayliffe told the Sunday Mail.

The South Australian fishing industry was supportive of the intervention. The DEWNR, however, was not.

A DEWNR spokeswoman said, "The Government does not support culling, sterilisation or relocation of NZ fur seals in SA. Attempts interstate and overseas to manage seal populations through culling, sterilisation or relocation have proven resource-hungry and largely ineffectual and any benefit received from relocating a small number of seals would likely be lost due to the influx of new seals."

So, for now, it looks as if the natural predator-prey relationship between the fur seals and penguins will continue without human intervention.

Firing at seals urged to protect penguins by Rebecca Brice, 24 July 2012, ABC News
Kangaroo Island may cull New Zealand fur seals to save penguins by Heather Kennett, 5 May 2012, Sunday Mail (SA)

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