Saturday 14 December 2013

Raft of Sealions

Well actually they're only called a raft when they're in the water, they're a colony when they're on land, a rookery when they have pups & a harem when the male(bull) gathers his females together for you-know-what. So the ones we found must surely be the care-free bachelors on their bachelor beach (pad).

You'll recall that I didn't locate any sealions on the walk I did out to the beach the afternoon we arrived at Surat Bay in the Catlins, well the next morning before the tide got to high I walked the 50 or so metres along the track through sand dunes to the estuary to be confronted with this sleeping sealion right at the base of the track. If he hadn't of moved I would have seen him too late (if at all) & stepped down into the sand.

Just then another sealion threw himself out of the water and came bounding up the beach & it was all on for a few seconds. It gave me a hell of a fright as at first it seemed he was headed straight for me as I was directly behind the now fully awake sealion in the sand. Man did I retreat fast! The dozy sealion decided he was out of there before it got too rough.

Sealions are very sociable animals and the single males spend a lot of their time over the next few months lounging around our southern beaches sparring with each other, having mock battles & generally annoying the heck out of any male smaller than himself. The rest of the colony; females, pups & dominant males, are mostly on the Auckland Islands way down in the Southern Ocean for the breeding season.

We walked out to the beach in the afternoon hoping to catch a few more sealions on the sand in the bay. We passed a few people returning, most said they hadn't seen any sealions but we kept walking headed for the top of the bay about an hours walk away.

We scanned the far end frequently with the binoculars hoping to catch sight of any sealions but nothing showed up. And still the people we passed said they hadn't see any, although they also said they only went so far & turned around when nothing showed up. It actually doesn't look far but believe me it went on and on.

We too thought there were none there the closer to the end we got, only what looked like logs & seaweed. But I knew from seeing that big boy at Moeraki how unassuming they look on the beach and sure enough before long we spotted one laying flat right in the middle of the beach on the wet sand. In fact we saw him and thought he was dead. He didn't move a whisker until we were about two metres away from him and then once again I got a fright when he stirred.

We actually thought he might of been sick as he looked a very motley specimen with a swarm of flies all over him but as we found out in due course, they all look similar & we came to the conclusion that they must be moulting their winter coat. When he sat up & gave us a look of disdain, the flies  all rose too!

We walked on and soon I was pointing out various "lumps" I thought would be sealions and sure enough there were half a dozen resting in the warm sand up against the dunes and looking very much like logs.

These two woke up while we were having our lunch and the bigger guy started hassling the smaller one.

The smaller one grabbed a chunk of flesh on big boy's neck and hung on for dear life for awhile.  Click on the photo for a bigger view & look at his eye. He was stretching trying to loosen the hold. I also think big boy was trying to do something else!

"Get off you big galoof"

These mock battles obviously happen quite a bit as there were scars and chunks of flesh missing around the necks of most of the sealions we saw but they have so much fat there I doubt they'd notice.

In the end the big boy decided he needed to cool off (I think the little guy thought so too!) & headed for the wet sand & water.

The seagulls are obviously aware that the sealions are a source of food because they hung around them like a bad smell (no pun intended) They walked along behind them or settled on the sand beside them.


He sat watching the waves until suddenly he was up & off, he'd spotted another potential victim carefully swimming in around the rocks, lifting his head every now & then, checking out the lay of the land. They must have a keen sense of smell or sight because you'd hardly know another sealion was there. 

Sealions, unlike seals, are able to rotate their hind flippers forward, which allows them to support their entire weight when walking on all flippers.
The other guy thought better of hauling himself out in the corner and headed out to sea again and came up on the far side of the rocks and up onto the beach to join the other smaller boy that had gone back to sleep in the sand.
These were some of the other sealions we saw who slumbered on in the warm sand & hardly moved a muscle when we got near. The pale one is the only one we thought may have been a female. Females are creamy beige in colour but are a lot smaller, similar to seals, a good 100-150kgs smaller than males. This one was still quite large & females shouldn't have been here so maybe he is an odd boy.
He looks like he's crashed after a hard night out, they also flick sand to cool themselves & regulate their body temperature. And look at those flies!

After a couple of hours of a thrilling encounter with so many sealions we reluctantly headed for home stopping again to say goodbye to the original "dead" sealion who was still on the beach.

"Don't look 'im in the eye Dave" Too late, he suddenly lunged at us, boy did we move! We nearly tripped over each other getting out of the way. I've never heard of a sealion attacking a human but I bet there have been some close calls. Apparently they mock charge, we didn't stop to find out how "mock" it was.

What a fantastic experience & afternoon we had, & we were the only ones there. In the end it was well worth the hike up the beach. We passed a few more people heading out there on the way home & I was sure to tell them to walk all the way to the end of the bay, don't stop until you reach the rocks. What you see is not logs or lumps of seaweed, they're lazy sealions!


  1. Shellie, we saw them there last February. It was great to wake up in the morning when the tide was in and see a large, playful sealion only a few metres from our back window. We also had a good laugh when it came out of the water to chase a dog along the beach. I think the dog moved a lot faster than you did!

    1. Hi Bruce, thankyou for your comment, isn't it wonderful that we have such great wildlife on our doorstep (literally!) I've heard that they can come close to your van sometimes, I'm going to look forward to the time a sealion decides to sleep on our mat. That'll be a little more exciting than the chooks that have slept there in the past!


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie