Sea lions not easily duped by decoys

JARED MORGAN
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2011
Steff Haresnape
JOHN HAWKINS/The Southland Times

DECOY: Steff Haresnape is spending the summer monitoring a trial using decoys to lure sea lions away from the Curio Bay Camping Ground.

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Student Steff Haresnape has been keeping a watchful eye over the sand and water of Porpoise Bay this summer, knowing her beachgoers will never need rescuing or reviving.

One is already dead, while the rest are, literally, dummies.

The 23-year-old Otago University post-graduate diploma in wildlife management student has been overseeing the Department of Conservation's sea lion decoy trial.

The trial involves placing a female sea lion that has been stuffed by a taxidermist and up to four stuffed canvas male and female sea lion decoys on the beach to lure their real counterparts away from the Curio Bay Camping Ground.

Young sea lions cross paths with campers every summer, slumping on tents and chasing people and vehicles.

Miss Haresnape said she had been trying various combinations of the decoys to see which worked best in luring real sea lions from the water.

On Tuesday, that approach included placed the stuffed female, known as "Stuffy", on the beach on her own, while grouping two dark brown can-vas "males" and a white canvas "fe-male" in a group a few hundred metres away.

"I'm trying to use a group just because it's more visible."

The decoys acted as a "visual cue" for sea lions in the water attracting them ashore, she said.

The decoys were proving they could lure the real thing, but it had been with mixed results, Miss Haresnape said.

"I've had what you could call five false positives where they have started to come up the beach and people get excited and start chasing sea lions to get photos. I had one go back into the water after being chased by a seagull."

However, away from human and avian interference, one result using a group of decoys was encouraging, she said.

"A big male walked right up to one and sniffed, I'm sure it knew it was fake, but it lay down beside them (the decoys)."

When a group of people came along the beach shortly afterwards, the sea lion became territorial and charged them, she said.

Southland DOC biodiversity officer Ros Cole said that reaction was common when people got too close.

"I encourage people to stay 10m away, keep your dog on a lead and if they go `bluh' you're too close, even if you're more than 10m away."

The trial was about managing the "interactions" between the animals and humans, she said.

However, it also doubled as a public awareness campaign illustrating just how endangered the New Zealand sea lion species was, Ms Cole said.

"They are as threatened as the kakapo and takahe and more threatened than Hector's dolphins," she said nodding to the water.

Miss Haresnape finishes at the beach on January 21.

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- The Southland Times

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