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Auckland Islands: Frolicking fur seals and a stranded albatross

Thursday 16 Feb 2012 11:15 a.m.

A fur seal in Carnley Harbour © Bob Zuur / WWF

A fur seal in Carnley Harbour © Bob Zuur / WWF

By Bob Zuur
WWF-New Zealand Marine Advocate

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Bob Zuur is a marine biologist who is spending a month exploring Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Islands to raise awareness of the area and its importance. His current work with WWF focuses on fisheries, offshore oil exploration and seabed mining, and on increasing protected areas in our marine environment. He will be documenting his travels here on 3news.co.nz.

Our Far South Bob Zuur RSS Feed

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There was a welcoming party at the head of Carnley Harbour, on the main Auckland Harbour. Very curious, they swam up close, peering at their visitors and inviting us to play in the calm waters. But no, these visitors were clearly terrestrial and very boring. I crouched down in shallow water and slowly one fur seal crept closer - mutual fascination - while the others kept a safer distance. She lunged at me in a playful bite. When I didn't respond it was clear that I didn't want to, or couldn't, play so she joined her friends and swam off.

Fur seals are common along Wellington's south coast, but I've never had such an engaging experience as this morning. Fur seals in the Auckland Islands have long forgotten the slaughters of the early 1800s and have yet to be exposed to the ignorance and aggression of today's humans.

I can't imagine that anyone having experienced these sinuous forms frolicking in the water and returning my inquisitive gaze would call them "rats of the sea". Who is the vermin, and who the native?

As we rode the Zodiacs across the glassy waters of the harbour back to the Spirit, a young wandering albatross paddled slowly away. This juvenile had evidently crash-landed without the strong winds needed to sustain its flight. It awaited its fate, either a life-saving breeze or the jaws of a hungry sea lion. One endangered species eaten by another.

Someone asked Andy from DOC if we should detour and rescue it. Another commented that we would help the albatross gene pool by letting nature weed out the stupid. Andy's reply focused on the need to protect the habitat of many of our seabirds. Wandering albatross chicks are eaten by pigs while wild cats eat petrels in their nests. If we really wanted to make a difference, Andy noted, we should focus on eradicating pests from key islands. We have the skills to do it, we simply lack the funds.

That night we slept peacefully in the calm waters of Carnley Habour. At 2:00am, the Spirit weighed her anchor and sailed south against the prevailing southwester into the Southern Ocean and on to Macquarie Island. A new phase of our expedition lay ahead!

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