Trouble at Kangaroo Island

A resurgent seal population is ganging up on the world's smallest penguin

A A A

Kangaroo Island, south of Adelaide, is one of Australia's most popular tourism destinations, thanks to its profusion of native wildlife, which includes koalas, kangaroos and the world's smallest penguin species.

But lately there have been dark goings-on in the animal kingdom: the New Zealand fur seals have been devouring the fairy penguins.

Penguin numbers have dropped by half on the island, according to some locals, who want the seals to be sterilised, relocated or even culled. Now they have come up with a new suggestion: shoot them with beanbag rounds – a method more commonly used to control riots – if they approach penguin colonies.

John Ayliffe, who runs nightly penguin-spotting tours, said five penguins had been taken by seals near the town of Kingscote in recent weeks. He warned that the seal population was booming and that, unless drastic measures were taken, the penguins on the rocky island could be wiped out. The lead shot "hits the seals like a punch and it will not penetrate the skin provided it's fired from sensible distances", he said, after which the seals would simply move away.

Conservationists, however, are horrified, and the state environment department says that "interactions between New Zealand fur seals and penguins are a natural phenomenon over which humans have little control". It adds that the seals – a protected species native to Australia as well as New Zealand – are only now recovering from commercial sealing in the past.

Sealing, which was Australia's first major industry after colonisation, nearly eradicated the fur seal. Although it was banned in the 1830s, fishermen were still allowed to kill seals deemed to be "interfering with fishing operations" until 1983.

In recent decades, the Kangaroo Island population has bounced back to about 25,000 – and the number of penguins has declined in tandem, claim tourism operators. One of these, Simone Somerfield, told The Australian last year that visitors to her penguin viewing centre had seen the birds ambushed by seals in the shallows and even chased on to the shore.

"Every now and again you would see one penguin being taken, and I would say, 'Gee, that's amazing, it's like David Attenborough'," she said. "But then it was more and more and more, and then mass kills in which the seals were not even eating them. It was happening within a hundred metres and you have a complete view – it was like watching a horror movie."

Seal populations are believed to have grown partly because of a decline in numbers of sharks and killer whales, their natural predators. Mr Ayliffe, manager of the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre, said that in South Africa and Namibia seals were "harvested" because there was not enough food for them. "Harvesting is a major tool used internationally to manage numbers. It's only a matter of time before we implement some control measures here."

However, measures such as culling and relocation have been rejected by environmental authorities, who say they have proved expensive and largely ineffective elsewhere. New seals move into areas from which others have been removed, and relocated seals swim long distances to return to familiar feeding grounds. Moreover, penguins form only a small part of the fur seal's diet, according to marine biologists.

Tim Kelly, of the Conservation Council of South Australia, said while he could understand the frustration of tour operators, the growth in seal numbers was a welcome development. He added there were other threats to the penguins, such as attacks by dogs and nest predation, which also had to be taken into account.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines