Most of the animals here at Macca are nice and friendly, you can look at them from a distance and they will check you out as well. Then you can both go about your day. The Hooker's sea lion is not one of those animals.
The Hooker’s normal breeding grounds are on the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands, but we occasionally get a juvenile male roaming down here. You can tell when a Hooker's has arrived on Macca as one of the expeditioners will be screaming as they are chased across the isthmus with a young male snapping at their heels. It’s quite a sight!
The male Hooker’s sea lion (also known as the New Zealand sea lion) can be up to 11.5ft (3.5m) long and weigh up to 450kg. If you talk to an expeditioner that has had a close encounter with one, they might tell you that a Hooker's sea lion has 6 inch fangs, but realistically they are much shorter, more likely around the 1 to 2 inch mark. With an estimated worldwide population of around 10,000, they are unfortunately the most threatened sea lion in the world. These guys can appear quite aggressive as they defend their patch of beach and during breeding season, their harem. This aggression is also the cause of the screaming expeditioner on occasion.
Hooker’s sea lions like to eat octopus, squid, fish and really like to rip open penguins and fur seals in front of very sad expeditioners. Some large males have also been spotted killing and eating young Southern elephant seals at the Campbell Islands.
Hooker’s can dive deeper and longer than any other of the world’s fur seals or sea lions. Although most of their feeding is done in waters of 100–200m, with each dive lasting 3–6 minutes, some sea lions have been recorded to dive to over 600m with dives of over 12 minutes.
Although most years there are only 9 or 10 of these balls of muscle spotted, we have been fortunate to have been spotting almost weekly around the station and a young juvenile has been spotted in the vicinity of Davis Hut multiple times over the past few months.
Troy Henderson, Macca Station Communications Technical Officer