Stuffed Sea Lions to Keep Frisky Males From Humans

stuffed sea lion photo
Photo: John Hawkins / The Southland Times

Beach-going tourists on New Zealand's southern coast have more than the traffic to contend with this vacation season -- what with a marauding horde of amorous sea lions invading camp sights and surf spots in search of a good time. So eager for a bit of fun, teenage sea lions have begun harassing people to the point that the Department of Conservation has decided to step in and offer a new distraction for the amorous young males -- in the form of sexy decoy sea lions. Sure, they may not be quite like the real thing, but that seems to matter little to the frisky animals, says the decoy-seal project's coordinator: "A big male walked right up to one and sniffed, I'm sure it knew it was fake, but it lay down beside them." Folks come from all over the world to appreciate the wildlife on New Zealand's Curio Bay Camping Ground -- the dolphins that visit the shoreline are a particular favorite. But unlike most animals in the region, the sea lions here seem equally as interested in getting up close and personal with humans.

A report from 3 News has more on the uncomfortably close animal encounters:

French surfer Arno Dupouy says the sea lions sometimes follow him in the water.

"I try to paddle and he followed me. He wanted to play but me I don't want to play. He was like 'grrr'."

It is not uncommon for campers to have unwanted visitors.

"He was just coming up from the beach and all the tourists were flocking around obviously. He was chasing us a bit, a bit aggressive," says Dutch tourist Richard Meutstege.

The sea lions' interest in humans isn't altogether unusual, reports Ros Cole of the Department of Conservation. "It seems to be predominantly young males, so the adult males are now down in the sub-Antarctic breeding." says the ranger. "So it's the young teenagers, got nothing better to do, hanging out, chilling out - having a bit of fun."

That's when Steff Haresnape, a post-grad in wildlife management, stepped in with the idea to attract the sea lions with decoys placed further up the beach, hoping they'll settle away from humans. So far, there's been limited success with the stuffed animals -- but it may be because the desire for inter-species mingling isn't exclusive to sea lions.

"I've had what you could call five false positives where they have started to come up the beach and people get excited and start chasing sea lions to get photos," Harensape told "I had one go back into the water after being chased by a seagull."

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