Australian fur-seal - vulnerable species listing

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Australian Fur-seal,Arctocephalus pusillus doriferusJones (1925), as a VULNERABLE SPECIES on Schedule 2 of that Act. Listing of vulnerable species is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

The Scientific Committee found that:

1. The Australian fur-seal,Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, is an otariid seal that preys on squid and school fish, as well as bottom-dwelling fish, octopus and crustaceans (Warneke 1995). The species utilises rocky sites that are open with flat or sloping rocks for breeding and as haul-out sites (Goldsworthy et al. 1997).

2. The fur-seal,Arctocephalus pusillus is represented by two subspecies with disjunct distributions: A. p. pusillus in South African waters, and A. p. doriferus in Australian waters. The Australian subspecies has been reported from South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales (NSW).

3. The Australian Fur-seal breeds at only ten locations on Victorian and Tasmanian islands in Bass Strait. There is some evidence that a breeding colony once occurred at Seal Rocks in NSW (Smith 2001). Although the species no longer breeds in NSW, habitat and resources within the state remain important to non-breeding individuals. Montague Island (near Narooma) is the main haul-out site for the species in NSW where individuals are present throughout the year in varying numbers (Irvine et al. 1997, Shaughnessy et al. 2001). In addition, Steamers Beach (south of Jervis Bay) and Green Cape (far south coast) are regular haul-out sites, and various locations along the NSW coast are used irregularly (Smith 2001).

4. The Australian Fur-seal suffered a severe decline as a result of commercial sealing that occurred from 1798 to 1923 (Warneke and Shaughnessy 1985). Prior to European exploitation, the breeding distribution of the species included NSW and southern Tasmania, although at present, the species is yet to recolonise many former breeding locations in Bass Strait (Warneke and Shaughnessy 1985; Shaughnessy 1999). Seal numbers are increasing at the extant Bass Strait colonies (Pemberton and Kirkwood 1994; Shaughnessy et al. 1995, 2000) but the Australian Fur-seal population is well below its original size. The pre-sealing annual seal pup production was estimated to be between 20 000 to 50 000 (Warneke 1982) whereas in 1992, annual pup production was estimated at only 13 000 (Pemberton and Kirkwood 1994).

5. The Australian Fur-seal is threatened by commercial and recreational fishing operations, particularly through bycatch mortality around Montague Island (Smith 2001). In addition, fishing operations may limit the availability of prey items for visiting seals. The species also is threatened by entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris that is increasingly discarded from boats or washed out to sea (Jones 1994). The depleted population of Australian Fur-seals, resulting from commercial sealing, has increased the species' vulnerability to other threats. The small, temporal aggregations at Montague Island, Steamer's Beach and Greencape are susceptible to stochastic events such as oil spills.

6. In view of the above points, the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Fur-seal,A. p. doriferus, is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances and factors threatening its survival or evolutionary development cease to operate, and is therefore eligible for listing as a vulnerable species.

Proposed Gazettal date: 24/05/02

Exhibition period: 24/05/02 - 28/06/02


Goldsworthy, S.D., Pemberton, D. and Warneke, R.M. (1997). Field identification of Australian and New Zealand Fur Seals, Arctocephalus spp., based on external characters. In 'Marine Mammal Research in the Southern Hemisphere, Volume 1, Status, Ecology and Medicine'. (Eds M. Hindell and C. Kemper.) pp. 63-71. (Surrey Beatty and Sons: Chipping Norton, NSW.)

Irvine, A., Bryden, M.M., Corkeron, P.J. and Warneke, R.M. (1997). A census of fur seals at Montagu Island, New South Wales. In 'Marine Mammal Research in the Southern Hemisphere, Volume 1, Status, Ecology and Medicine'. (Eds M. Hindell and C. Kemper.) pp. 56-62. (Surrey Beatty and Sons: Chipping Norton, NSW.)

Jones, M.M. (1994). 'Fishing Debris in the Australian Marine Environment.' (Bureau of Resource Sciences: Canberra.)

Pemberton, D. and Kirkwood, R.J. (1994). Pup production and distribution of the Australian fur seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, in Tasmania. Wildlife Research 21, 341-52.

Shaughnessy, P.D. (1999). 'The Action Plan for Australian Seals.' (Environment Australia: Canberra.)

Shaughnessy, P.D., Testa, J.W. and Warneke, R.M. (1995). Abundance of Australian fur seal pups, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, at Seal Rocks, Victoria, in 1991-92 from Petersen and Bayesian estimators. Wildlife Research 22, 625-32.

Shaughnessy, P.D., Troy, S.K., Kirkwood, R.J. and Nicholls, A.O. (2000). Australian fur seals at Seal Rocks, Victoria: pup abundance by mark-recapture estimation shows continued increase. Wildlife Research 27, 629-33.

Shaughnessy, P.D., Briggs, S.V. and Constable, R. (2001). Observations on seals at Montague Island, New South Wales. Australian Mammalogy 23, 1-7.

Smith, P. (2001). Review of the conservation status of marine mammals in New South Wales. Report to the NSW Scientific Committee.

Warneke, R.M. (1982). The distribution and abundance of seals in the Australasian region, with summaries of biology and current research. In 'Mammals in the Seas, Volume IV, Small Cetaceans, Seals, Sirenians and Otters'. pp. 431-75. (Food and Agriculture Organisation: Rome.)

Warneke, R.M. (1995). Australian Fur-seal Arctocephalus pusillus (Schreber, 1775). In 'The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals'. (Ed. R. Strahan.) pp. 680-2. (Reed Books: Chatswood, NSW.)

Warneke, R.M. and Shaughnessy, P.D. (1985). Arctocephalus pusillus, the South African and Australian Fur Seal: taxonomy, biogeography and life history. In 'Studies of Sea Mammals in South Latitudes'. (Eds J.K. Ling and M.M. Bryden.) pp. 53-77. (South Australian Museum: Adelaide.)

About the NSW Scientific Committee

Page last updated: 27 February 2011