A disease (Klebsiella pneumonia) is killing Auckland Island sea lion pups in unsustainable numbers!

cropped-yellow-fin-tuna-school3.jpg

I have just received a sobering media statement that was released by Deepwater Group yesterday (22 February 2014) that provides information on the New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) pup survival.

Disease is killing 600 sea lion pups at the Auckland Islands each year.

The disease Klebsiella pneumonia is killing Auckland Island sea lions in unsustainable numbers. The Deepwater Group, which represents the squid fishing fleet off the Auckland Islands, has written to Conservation Minister Nick Smith on the eve of his departure for the Southern Ocean on HMNZS Wellington today. It has requested the government intervene to save the endangered New Zealand sea lion population which uses the Auckland Islands as its main breeding ground. According to George Clement (Deepwater CEO), in the 1990s, around 34 per cent of sea lions survived to breeding age.

A bacterial disease, Klebsiella pneumoniae, somehow got into this population around 13 years ago. It is killing a third or more of the pups before they reach the age of two – leaving fewer than 15 per cent to survive to breeding age.” 

“This means that in the early 1990s around 900 pups survived to breeding age each year and now only around 200 pups are surviving to breed. As a result, this population is in decline.”

“As alarming as these numbers are, the real situation could yet prove to be worse because we have already lost many of the sea lions which would now be breeding. Unless we roll up our sleeves and do something to halt the effects of this epidemic on the pups, this population is likely to decline further before it can increase.”

George Clement says the seafood industry has told Nick Smith that it is offering to work with government and with experts in veterinary science, animal husbandry and in treating animal diseases, to find practical solutions to save the sea lions.

Interventions are urgently needed that will prevent this disease from reducing the population further. Klebsiella infections in humans can be treated with antibiotics, so a way has to be found to prevent the young sea lions dying before they leave for sea.”

In the past, the seafood industry has been blamed as the main threat to sea lions. But when 600 pups die each year from disease and 15 adults are killed by fishing, it is evident this population will continue to decline, even if there are no further deaths from fishing.”

As an industry we’ve invested a huge amount over the past ten years to reduce incidental sea lion bycatch in our catch management, in particular refining the Sea Lion Escape Devices (SLEDs) which have drastically reduced the risk to the sea lions from fishing.”

But this disease is a much bigger threat than fishing ever was. We want to work together with government and experts in various disease disciplines, both from New Zealand and overseas, and any NGOs as well, to save the unique New Zealand sea lions from extinction”.

Graph Showing New Zealand Sea Lion Pup Mortalities over time. Source: Deepwater Group Media Release

Graph Showing New Zealand Sea Lion Pup Mortalities over time. Source: Deepwater Group Media Release

I am trying to make sense of the numbers provided in the graphs above. At first blush the “red” sector stating that 32% of pups born between 2005-2010 died from disease, stands out. But on further analysis its the “green” sector that is the most sobering:

  •  34% of pups born between 1990 t0 1993 survived to breed as adults
  •  14% of pups born between 2005 t0 2010 survived to breed as adults

The effects of this are enormous. Lets consider this numerically!

  • For arguments sake, let’s say 1000 pups were born in 1992. According to the figures above, 340 of these would survive to breed (note 170 of these would be females). These 340 breeding adults would produce maybe 170 pups.  Of these 170 pups, 57-58 (28-29 females) would end up recruiting into the population as adult breeders (remember that there are other older breading females producing pups in the population too), so 34% survival is ok.
  • Now look at the situation in 2005-10. Say 1000 pups were born in 2007. 140 (note 70 of these would be females) of these pups would survive to adulthood to breed. These 140 breeding adults would further produce at maybe 70 pups .  According to these numbers, of the 70 pups, 10 (5 females) would end up recruiting into the population as breeders. 5??

George Clement said it above…

this population is in decline.” … ““As alarming as these numbers are, the real situation could yet prove to be worse because we have already lost many of the sea lions which would now be breeding.” …

Interventions are urgently needed that will prevent this disease from reducing the population further. Klebsiella infections in humans can be treated with antibiotics, so a way has to be found to prevent the young sea lions dying before they leave for sea.”

Lets get in there and do something. Let’s do more than watch and monitor… Lets intervene!

What would work?

    • A drenching programme?
    • An inoculation programme that provides protection against Klebsiella pneumonia.

It can’t be that difficult. We do it with other animals all the time on a daily basis. Wouldn’t consultation with a vet with an expertise in pinniped epidemiology would be a good start? Even a team of vets?

If we do nothing the decline will continue. And before we know it.

We will be looking at a handful of breeding pairs struggling to keep this endemic species in existence.

New Zealand Sea Lions (Photo: Phombo) Source: http://subantarcticscience.wordpress.com/author/kimberleycollins/

New Zealand Sea Lions (Photo: Phombo)
Source: http://subantarcticscience.wordpress.com/author/kimberleycollins/

New Zealand Sea Lion Information

For more information see the Department of Conservation (DOC) website:

New Zealand sea lions are only found in New Zealand. They are one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world and arguably the most threatened because of their declining numbers and restricted breeding range.

Sea lions are found mainly on beaches in Otago and Southland areas and New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands. New Zealand sea lions are generally quite confident around people and dogs so it is important to keep at least 10 metres from them.

Related articles

 

Advertisements

One thought on “A disease (Klebsiella pneumonia) is killing Auckland Island sea lion pups in unsustainable numbers!

  1. Pingback: New Zealand TV3 reports the “Vicious disease killing NZ’s sea lions” | Green Fish Blue Fish

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s