An unusually stormy winter in the Great Australian Bight prompted large numbers of young fur seals to seek sheltered conditions in the bays and on the jetties along the west coast of South Australia.
- Long-nosed fur seals shelter in bays along the west coast of South Australia
- Record winds in the Great Australian Bite during winter are a contributing factor
- National parks say people should stay 30 meters away from seals when on land
National Parks and Wildlife Marine Coordinator Dirk Holman said harsh winter conditions had pushed the newly weaned juveniles out of the bay to find food and shelter.
âThis year has been a bit of an outlier and I think we can possibly attribute it to the harsh and turbulent winter we have experienced,â Mr. Holman said.
“The juveniles were basically fending for themselves, so they either came to the bays to escape the harsh conditions of the Great Australian Bight (GAB), or some of them might be weakened and sadly died.”
Nature, a powerful enemy for young puppies
“There are multiple stresses on these animals, especially for this cohort of juveniles, which have just been weaned from their mothers.”
National park officials had so far collected two seal carcasses for autopsies.
A silver lining to the recovery has been that the autopsy results add to seal research on disease studies.
Mr Holman said the long-nosed fur seals typically inhabit the lower edges of the islands, while the endangered Australian sea lion typically occupies higher lands.
“So also if they venture far out to sea, starvation is a problem.”
Diseases and toxins have also affected populations.
Holman said people should stay at least 30 meters away from marine mammals, which were “most likely carriers of disease and high levels of bacteria.”
âVery often the animals are ashore to rest, as they spend their time at sea feeding and then spend their time at sea. [on land] at rest, “he said.
Could La Nina play a role?
Bureau of Meteorology duty meteorologist Tina Donaldson said that during the winter a number of wind records were set in the Great Australian Bight.
âLooks like it was a particularly windy winter for the Great Australian Bight, especially for the second half of July where we had a series of fronts and lows that swept through South Australia,â Ms. Donaldson.
âNullarbor set a new record for August with 91 kilometers per hour recorded.
âAnother way to measure wind is through something called wind stroke where we look at how long, if you were to blast a ball in the wind, say for the whole month, how long that would be, so c This is called a wind race, measuring the wind over the entire month.
University of Sydney School of Veterinary Sciences senior professor Dr Rachael Gray said the movement of long-nosed fur seals may be linked to La Nina.
âI wonder if the oscillation index – whether that’s the La Nina we’re in – plays a role in terms of prey availability and things like that?â She said.
It comes as local fishermen in Coorong call for a cull of growing seal populations.