Thanks so much for joining us for a chat, Andrew. We'll jump right into it—are there many seals in Sydney Harbour at the moment?
It's a little hard to say, but over the winter months, we may get reports of six or so, and the numbers seem to be on the increase. There is a small group of long-nosed and Australian fur seals below Macquarie Lighthouse on the ocean side of Watson's Bay, and there seem to be more sightings in the harbour.
Why are seal numbers increasing in the harbour?
These animals were hunted extensively in the 1790s and 1800s By the early 1900s there was a ban on hunting, mainly due to the fact that there weren't that many animals left. The population has increased around 10% since the ‘90s, so it's almost reaching that of their pre-sealing numbers. As those general numbers increase, we will see more of them in Southern NSW, because this was part of their past range.
What can you tell us about the seal that's taken up residency at the Opera House over the past few years?
He's been a regular visitor since 2014, he's a long-nosed fur seal and looking at his size, it's probably a sub-adult or an adult male and his body condition is good. The fact that he's coming back to the site and given we can be confident that it's the same animal, it's a really good reflection of the people that are viewing him.
Why would a seal haul up at the Sydney Opera House?
It's certainly unusual, as most fur seals prefer offshore islands or rock platforms with minimal human presence. We know from having fur seals at Taronga Zoo that they can habituate to people in a non-threatening environment. Given that it is the same animal, it's a credit to those visitors observing him that they are able to view him without him feeling concerned. There are some reliable accounts that fish populations in the harbour are improving, so he's probably getting his food locally and then can come back and rest on the steps.
Is it typical behaviour for seals to pick a certain spot and return to it each year?
Yes, it's what they call 'site fidelity', very common in seals—particularly females. Where the females are born is where they'll return to give birth to their pups. Over time there will be colonies that get full and so there will be animals that leave and go to other colonies. As I said, it's unusual for this animal to choose to go to the Opera House, but it's really fortunate for people to see that animal and behave in such a way that they haven't caused disturbance.
What about the smaller seal that sometimes joins the regular seal?
If the regular seal is there and another seal in the same area sees it resting, they tend to congregate to one area because they’ve got that confidence that the rock is comfortable and with easy access to deep water.