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Photo by: Cultura/Richard Robinson

Cultura/Richard Robinson

New Zealand's Sea Lions Have Returned: Crashing Soccer Games, Golf Courses, and Public Pools

One of the world’s rarest sea lion species was driven into near extinction after being targeted by hunters. Now, New Zealand sea lions are repopulating the coasts– surprising locals in unexpected places.

December 06, 2021

Surrounded by the South Pacific ocean, sea lions were once found on every coast of the island nation of New Zealand. The once-flourishing species was hunted to the brink of extinction over a century ago. But since 1993, these rare animals have been making a comeback.

Now, the sea lions are taking back the mainland. New Zealand sea lions have been spotted on hiking trails, golf courses, and even in a public pool– where the animal waded into the kiddie pool evading its captors for more than three hours, even taking a dip in the lap pool before being shepherded back to the beach.

NEW ZEALAND - 2008/12/16: New Zealand, Subantarctica, Enderby Island, Field Of Yellow Bulbinella Rossii Flowers (megaherbs), Hooker's Sea Lion Couple. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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New Zealand sea lions, also known as Hooker's sea lions, sit in a field of yellow Bulbinella Rossii flowers.

Photo by: Wolfgang Kaehler

Wolfgang Kaehler

New Zealand sea lions, also known as Hooker's sea lions, sit in a field of yellow Bulbinella Rossii flowers.

Another sea lion stormed the field during a kids' soccer game in Dunedin, stopping the game for five minutes. The former breeding grounds of the once-flourishing species are now populated by humans. Meaning New Zealanders are going to have to learn to cohabitate with these blubbery creatures.

Earlier this year, a female NZ sea lion, named Hiriwa, gave birth to her pup near the 13th hole of a golf course. The two nestled into the nearby bushes of the fairway over the coming weeks. Golfers remained respectful and kept their distance. Though new moms are known for being protective of their young, there hasn’t been any reported aggression.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is helping to fund research that can better predict the settling and habitation patterns of sea lions. By collaborating with sea lion experts and local wildlife rangers, the New Zealand government hopes to minimize threats to the endangered sea lions as their populations make a comeback.

Neuseeland, Ozeanien, Pazifik, Südinsel, Southland, Otago Halbinsel, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, Cape Saunders, Allans Beach, Neuseeländische Seelöwe (Phocarctos hookeri), en: New Zealand sea lion

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Adult male New Zealand sea lions can grow up to 11.5 ft long and weigh up to 350 pounds.

Photo by: Westend61

Westend61

Adult male New Zealand sea lions can grow up to 11.5 ft long and weigh up to 350 pounds.

“One way it will help is the public awareness and engagement and knowing which communities to target as the population expands,” said science adviser, Laura Boren. “We can get people ready for sea lions coming to their town.”

Soon after making their home on the golf course. Hiriwa and her pup needed nutrients. Meaning the sea lion mother was regularly crossing the road from the golf course to the ocean to get food for her pup– causing the city to shut down one of its busiest roads for months for their protection.

As the country works to find a balance, 10,000 sea lions are returning to their homeland from their subantarctic island habitat. “We need to educate people that these guys are supposed to be here,” said ecologist Louise Chilvers of Massey University in New Zealand. “They are animals, they are part of the ecosystem. You respect them, and they’ll respect you.”

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