May 28, 2022
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(CNN) — Like many youngsters, Hannah Yeardley, a 17-year-old dwelling in Dunedin, New Zealand, babysits in her spare time. The one distinction is that it’s not kids she’s taking care of, it’s sea lion pups.

From December via February, throughout the breeding season and whereas the newborns are at their most susceptible, Yeardley wanders down the white sands of Lengthy Seashore on her weekends and faculty holidays, checking in on sea lion households nesting in the space. She’s volunteering for the New Zealand Sea Lion Belief, a corporation working to guard the endangered species.

Round the Otago peninsula on New Zealand’s south island, sea lions reside cheek by jowl with their human neighbors. Native residents are stepping in as “babysitters” to assist maintain the new child pups secure.

Her favourite sea lion is Zoe, a feminine of about the similar age as her, with a darkish patch round the eyes and a particular scallop form in her flipper.

“She’s simply turned 17,” says Yeardley, whose birthday was in March. “It’s very cool seeing her yearly, and happening that journey together with her, (watching her) having pups.”

It has been a bumper yr for sea lions on the Otago Peninsula, a finger of land that stands out from the metropolis suburbs of Dunedin into the Pacific Ocean and is residence to the greatest sea lion inhabitants on mainland New Zealand, in line with the nation’s Division of Conservation. Twenty-one pups have been born, making it the most profitable breeding season for the endangered species in virtually 200 years.

Sea lions are returning to New Zealand’s mainland after being hunted to close extinction.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP by way of Getty Photos

Babysitter Hannah Yeardley hopes that by taking care of New Zealand sea lion pups she may help the inhabitants develop.

Caitlin McGee/CNN

Sea lions flourished alongside New Zealand’s coasts till industrial searching, which started in the early nineteenth century and continued via to the mid twentieth century, introduced the animals near extinction. Remnant populations survived a whole bunch of miles south on sub-Antarctic islands, comparable to the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, the place the majority of breeding nonetheless happens as we speak.

Then, in the early Nineties, a lone adventurous feminine ventured again to the mainland and gave beginning to a pup on St Clair seaside. She grew to become often known as “Mum” and a statue of her now sits proudly on the esplanade above St Clair.

“This one feminine was chargeable for bringing again a inhabitants of sea lions to Otago,” says Jim Fyfe, biodiversity ranger for the coastal Otago district of New Zealand’s Division of Conservation.

In a stroke of luck, Mum’s first three pups have been feminine, which obtained the inhabitants off to a superb begin, explains Fyfe. “By 2000, we have been having two or three pups being born, then by 2010, six to eight pups have been being born, and in the previous few years, we’ve had 18 to twenty. It seems like we’re on that little exponential curve at the backside of inhabitants progress,” he says.

However sea lions have returned to a really completely different habitat to that of 200 years in the past — roads, vehicles, motorbikes, people, canine and all kinds of potential hazards are actually prolific in the area. This presents large challenges in preserving the inhabitants wholesome and comfortable.

Sea lions are smelly neighbors

Wanting to discover a shelter away from grownup male sea lions — which weigh as much as a hefty 450 kilograms and have been identified to trample pups whereas on the seek for a mate — moms usually head inland to nest, however this solely brings them nearer to human threats.

They’ve been discovered nesting in backyards, canine kennels, outbuildings and the native golf course, says Fyfe, typically inflicting hassle with human neighbors. He recollects one younger feminine that spent round three months sleeping below a home, till the house owners obtained fed up and evicted her as a result of “the home obtained a bit smelly.”

“Their night-time habits of coming in at two o’clock in the morning and mooing for his or her pups could make them an annoying neighbor,” he provides.

However for all their unhealthy habits, sea lions are the ones in mortal hazard. This yr, a three-month-old sea lion pup was struck and killed by a automobile on an Otago Peninsula street, and motorbike tracks have been lately noticed beside a preferred “nursery” space the place many mom sea lions and their pups have settled.

The Division of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Belief, with its military of “babysitters” comparable to Yeardley, attempt to handle these threats. The organizations maintain monitor of females and their pups, cordoning off areas the place they is likely to be nesting, and placing up indicators warning passersby and asking for all canine to be saved on a lead. Typically, if sea lions have chosen to nest in an uncovered space, Fyfe and his workforce will create a easy shelter to assist shield the pups, and final yr, they closed a road in Dunedin for a month to maintain a sea lion household secure.

“The seasonal breeding cycle is a crucial level for (the sea lions)” says Fyfe. “We ask for folks’s endurance, it’s not a everlasting factor.”

However as the sea lion inhabitants continues to develop, this personalised service might develop into much less viable. As a substitute, Fyfe hopes expertise will present an answer. He was concerned in a research project, printed final yr, that makes use of algorithm-based fashions and GIS mapping to establish crucial habitat and will assist rangers prioritize areas for cover.

“They’re not really going to chew you”

In the end, one of the easiest options for shielding sea lions from human threats is educating folks on how to answer them.

“If folks get too near sea lions after they’re energetic, the sea lions have a bluff cost … and folks are likely to type of activate their heels and run away,” says Fyfe. “Operating is the improper factor to do. They’re not really going to chew you — 99 occasions out of 100 they’d cease and sniff you. So simply try to keep calm and maintain strolling out of the space.”

Fyfe hopes that as locals get used to the presence of sea lions on their seashores and round their properties, they may study to coexist. “Folks don’t have to be afraid, they’re not an aggressive animal,” he says. “They’re extra playful and curious.”

Luckily, elevating consciousness and curiosity in the animal just isn’t laborious. “They’re their very own greatest advertising and marketing instrument, (as a result of) on the complete, they’re tremendous cute,” he provides.

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