Only a few kilometres off the coast of Fremantle, Western Australia, lives the world’s rarest Sea Lions. They reside on a small Island called Carnac also famed for the large number of tiger snakes, featured in one of David Attenboroughs’ documentaries.
This Australian Sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is an IUCN Red Listed - endangered species. The West Coast of WA has a total estimated population of around 1,000 individuals, although there are more along the South Coast and in South Australia. The Sea Lions found on Carnac and several other “haul out” areas around the Metropolitan area are all male, with the female of the species residing further north around Jurien bay. The bottom feeding habits of the Australian Sea Lion mean that they are diving on a daily basis to their physiological limits and therefore the time they spend on resting areas is vitally important for their recovery.
After decades of hunting, they still remain threatened by human activities, particularly from interactions with commercial fishing operations and entanglement within fishing gear and other foreign debris. Other potential threats include a reduction in food supply, human disturbance, oil spills and chemical contaminants and disease.
Sea Shepherd’s Bruce The Rib and the local Sea Shepherd Perth Marine Response team have been out to Carnac Island, regularly monitoring the Sea Lions and are dismayed by the observations. The Department of Parks and Wildlife have put yellow buoys along the beach with written instructions telling vessels not to go onto the beach or for people to approach within 10m of the Sea Lions. To date every time Sea Shepherd crew have visited the Island they have found a boat either on the beach or anchored inside the marker buoys. In addition they have seen people on the beach with stereos and having picnics close to the resting Sea Lions. All of this behavior is unacceptable and shows complete ignorance of the guidelines laid down by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Fishing, as we all know, is a very popular activity off the WA coast, but there is absolutely no doubt to Sea Shepherd that the eastern side of Carnac Island, where the Sea Lions haul out to rest and recover, should be a “No Fishing Zone”. This is such a small restriction on recreational fishing, but a very necessary one in an attempt to preserve this rare and wonderful mammal.
Last week a Sea Lion trying to eat a discarded fish head with a large double hooked lure attached was found, which would surely have died had Sea Shepherd crew not intervened to remove the hooks and lure. Hooks, metal leaders and monofilament line have also been found on the rocks and on the sea bed directly off the beach, in addition to two crab pots placed about 30m off the beach with lines and floats attached.
There were 31 boats on one visit in the anchorage off Carnac Island, with seven of these fishing along the beach and one directly in front of the Sea Lions resting just a few metres away. On one particular occasion, a fisherman trolled right through the anchorage and along the beach, while several Sea Lions were in the water at the same time.
These beautiful, endangered and rare mammals need our full support and protection or else their populations will decline. Should the disturbance of their habitat continue, there is a strong likelihood that they will abandon the island and try and find a new home as they have done previously, when impacted by humans.
Surely the use of this small beach can be restricted, so that these rare and beautiful creatures can continue to survive. After all, fishing and boating activities can take place some place else, but the seals resting and recovery area cannot.
Sea Shepherd intends to continue its efforts to give these Australian Sea Lions better protections, endeavoring to make the eastern side of Carnac Island a No Fishing Zone. We shall continue to patrol, monitor, work with the authorities and document the hazards and disturbances these endangered mammals face.
Please support us by following developments on Bruce The Rib (https://www.facebook.com/BruceTheRib?fref=ts) Facebook page and providing support when the time is right for submission to the relevant authorities.
At the end of the day, three out of every four breaths we breath comes from the ocean and a healthy ocean is one that is rich in biodiversity. Saving the endangered Australian Sea Lion is of global significance and deserves the outmost protection, for the survival of the species and for future generations.