Clutha River hosts rare visitor
A sea lion was seen at least 25km up the Clutha River on Sunday.
A member of the threatened species list, it is classed as nationally critical.
This is the highest threat category and puts the sea lion in the same group as the kakapo and the Maui's dolphin.
The animal in the Clutha travelled about 2km upriver from the bridge at Stirling before turning around and appearing to head back towards the sea.
Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Jim Fyfe said photos showed it was an adult male, identified by its blunt nose and large head.
They can weigh up to 400kg.
The species was recovering after being hunted to the point of extinction but there were fewer than 150 of them in Otago, Fyfe said.
"Numbers are in decline so we're lucky to have them on the Otago coastline but people do have to adapt to that . . . the big risk is people shooting them."
Sea lions tended to feed inshore more than fur seals and this one was likely looking for food, Fyfe said.
"They like clear water as opposed to murky water, although they are not reliant on their vision for feeding."
Both seals and sea lions were known to swim up rivers and DOC probably received reports about one in the Clutha every 2-3 years, with a sea lion once found in Lake Tuakitoto, he said.
Unlike fur seals, sea lions were not afraid of people so it was best to stay some distance from them and back away slowly if you caught their attention, he said.
For more information about how to share the beach and water with these animals check out sealiontrust.org.nz.
The Southland Times