Hookers Sealion (Phocarctos hookeri)



Young Female Hookers Sealion on Sydney Cove, Ulva Island

“Hookers” are regular visitors around our beaches, but most are males, and most of them sub breeding age. So when I came down onto Sydney cove yesterday with a party I was somewhat surprised to find a young female lying on the sand. And of course I had to explain to my guests that it wasn’t a seal, rather a sea lion…. seals have no visible ears and undulate along on their bellies on land, while sealions have small but visible ears, and can get up on their flippers and run… a point well worth remembering as they can move very quickly. To add to the confusion, our so called NZ Fur Seal is actually misnamed.. it is in fact a sea lion.

Auckland Islands

Hookers Breeding Colony, Enderby Island, Auckland Islands. The “Beach Master” Bulls guarding their harems of blond females are all over 8 years old. Younger males lack the size and strength to force their way into the colony. Instead hanging around the fringes hoping to “Get Lucky”

Most of the 6 to 8000 population lives on the Auckland Islands, 200 odd miles south of Stewart Island, although there is a small but thriving colony, including a few breeding females along the Otago Coast, a small colony of mainly males at Port Pegasus plus “wandering” males who will take up residence wherever the mood suits them.

Mostly Males

A group of Bachelor Males, usually one almost at breeding age, and a “harem” of younger males

We see mostly single males, although down at Port Pegasus beaches will often have a group comprising 1 or 2 sub-breeding males and a ‘harem” of 2 to 3 year old “teenagers”. These rambunctious groups are seldom still, with much pushing and shoving and threatening behavour. Practicing I suppose for when they will be big enough, around 8 years old, to fight their way into the breeding colonies.

Mane

Young Male about 2 years old.

Up to around a year old males can be as blond as the females, but gradually darken until quite black. Also they develop a distinctive mane as they approach breeding age.


Hookers are fun animals. They can be intensely curious, and many times in the Zodiac we have been “buzzed” by young males. This behavior is most noticeable when there are several animals in a group who really appear to egg each other on.

Sub Breeding age Male Hookers Sealion on Sydney Cove.

Behavior on seeing humans can range from studied indifference, to instant retreat or worse chase. This latter can be quite frightening as these animals can move very quickly, and keep it up for a considerable distance. A handful of sand in the face will generally turn them away, but better to keep a safe distance.

Name

These animals are endemic to New Zealand. The name Hookers Sealion has fallen out of favour in some circles, and there is an attempt being made to replace it with “New Zealand” Sealion. Something I resist, as to my mind it is disrespectful of Joseph Hooker, the naturalist who first described these fascinating animals

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

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