The Australian Sealion (Neophoca cinerea) is a large marine mammal that is a member of the furseal and sealion family Otariidae. Seals and Sealions are also referred to as Pinnipeds as they are part of the order Pinnipedia. This species can be found in the cool temperate waters of southern Australia and can colonies can be from the Abrolhos Islands near Geraldton in Western Australia around to Kangaroo Island in South Australia. There are approximately 12,000 Australian Sealions found in Australia and these low numbers make it one of the rarest seal species in the world. Its rare status let to it being listed in February 2005 as a ‘threatened’ species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The Australian Sealion is unique in that it is an ‘eared’ seal. They differ from other seals found in the northern Hemisphere by having external ears and they also use their front flippers to propel themselves through the water. They are more agile on land than other seal species as they are capable of walking on all four flippers. The body is torpedo in shape making it very streamlined in the water giving it good speed to chase prey and escape from predators such as the great white shark. It is an opportunistic feeder and it is known to feed on crustaceans, octopus, squid and it loves to catch fish.
The males are commonly referred to as ‘bulls’ and they have a very thick neck and powerful shoulders. The males are brown in colour whilst the females have silver colouration on their backs with cream down their sides. The breeding cycle for the Australian Sealion is considered to be from October to January and the breeding cycle is approximately every 18 months.
The Australian Sealion is a very inquisitive animal and when a boat pulls up to a seal colony they dart into the water to investigate and play with the approaching divers. Their speed and movements underwater make us look like mere mortals, they have been recorded diving to depths of 270 metres and they can hold their breath for at least 7 minutes.