Sea lion and pup hit by vehicle in Coastal Otago

Eight-year-old Matariki and her one-month-old pup were struck by a vehicle as they crossed Kaka Point Road near Balclutha. At the time of the accident, Matariki was likely taking her pup to a new spot to rest and may have been nursing the pup on the road.

Both Matariki and her pup were found badly injured by a passing motorist who notified DOC. Sadly, the pup has since died and due to her severe injuries Matariki was euthanised by a vet yesterday.

DOC Murihiku Operations Manager, John McCarroll says Matariki was much loved by the local community and the two deaths are a tragic loss for the New Zealand sea lion population.

“Matariki was gifted her name by local whānau. She was a taonga of the sea lion population at Kaka Point. Over the years she had developed a habit of giving birth to pups in unique places such as under a crib or in a farmer’s shed.”

Te Rūnaka o Awarua kaiwhakahaere Dean Whaanga says rāpoka are a taonga species for Ngāi Tahu and Matariki will be greatly missed.

“Our whanau are saddened by our loss of Matariki and her pup. She had a special place in our hearts.”

DOC is encouraging the driver of the vehicle that hit Matariki to come forward or for witnesses to contact the Murihiku DOC office on +64 3 211 2400.

“We understand accidents happen, but it’s important people inform DOC if they do hit native wildlife. All New Zealand sea lions are named, tagged and well known within their community. This is a huge loss for Kaka Point residents,” says John McCarroll.

“By talking to the driver we’re hoping to understand more about what has happened and identify ways of protecting sea lions from accidents like this in the future.

“This is a timely reminder; we are sharing our coastal roads with wildlife and vehicles need to slow down.”

“It’s important we remember to keep an eye out for other native wildlife on the roads such as kororā/little blue penguins and kekeno/New Zealand fur seals which can cross the road at any time.

The New Zealand sea lion is classified as “Nationally Vulnerable”. Ninety eight percent of breeding occurs on Campbell and the Auckland Islands, but there are also small populations on the lower South Island and Stewart Island. Kaka Point is home to six other known breeding sea lions and pups.

“Matariki has previously given birth to two other pups who have since returned to the area. Rāpoka are local personalities within the wider community and this tragic loss will be felt by us all.

“We are hoping Matariki’s first born, Jade will have a pup of her own this year and it will be up to her to carry on Matariki’s whakapapa,” says John McCarroll.

People can report sick, injured or dead wildlife by calling the DOC emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

Background information

  • It’s estimated the New Zealand sea lion population numbers around 12,000.
  • Matariki was born at Surat Bay in Summer 2012 before relocating to Kaka Point in summer 2016.
  • Mataraki was assessed by a vet yesterday morning. As she was not responding and had severe internal trauma DOC made the difficult decision to euthanise her.
  • Sea lions face a range of natural and human threats, such as disease, fishing, environmental change, food availability, and predation by sharks. Disturbance by beachgoers and dogs along the mainland coastline also impact on the population’s ability to recolonise.
  • Like New Zealand fur seals, New Zealand sea lions can often turn up in strange places. They can travel a long way inland and will cross roads or enter gardens and even buildings sometimes. It is common to find sea lions several hundred meters from the water; some have even been found several kilometres inland.
  • Female sea lions give birth to their pups from December to early January and have only one pup a year. They nurse their pups for at least nine or ten months. During this time, the female spends time on land nursing their pup and time at sea feeding.
  • On the mainland, females usually give birth alone at a secluded hidden site in order to avoid males’ attention and the pup will remain at that site. However, towards the end of January, females with their pups will move to different sites and sometimes further inland.

Matariki’s story

  • Matariki was born in 2012 and was the daughter of Marea who was the matriarch of the Catlins New Zealand sea lion population.
  • Matariki was part of the Catlins New Zealand sea lion population and was one of seven breeding aged females.
  • Matariki’s first pup was born under a crib (bach) at Kaka Point and named Jade by the family who found her.
  • Matariki gave birth to another healthy female pup in January 2019 near Karoro Stream. Matariki did an amazing job at hiding her pup from male sea lions by swimming 150 m upstream before moving 200 m up hill and through bush. Her first pup Jade stayed by her side during this time observing her mother and the new pup.
  • Matariki was part of a research project in July 2019 to discover more about New Zealand sea lion foraging behaviours. She spent 50% of her time feeding at the mouth of the Clutha River, isolated from humans and other sea lions.
  • This year Matariki gave birth to another female pup at the back of a hay shed on Inch Clutha (an island between the northern and southern branches of the Clutha River). The family who own the farm where she gave birth were overjoyed she had chosen their hay shed as a creche.

/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.