“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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