Introducing ‘Sammy’ the sea lion, looking particularly photogenic in this photo from April 1956, when he graced Whakaraupō / Lyttelton Harbour with his presence.
The New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is also referred to as Hooker’s sea lion, and as whakahao or rāpoka by Māori.
Males can reach impressive sizes and weights; up to 3.5 metres long and 450 kilograms in weight, with females about half that size. Sea lions eat fish, squid, crustaceans, birds and even other marine mammals such as fur seals, but in turn are predated on by the great white shark and sometimes sport significant scarring if they have escaped these encounters.
From the 13th to the 19th centuries, subsistence hunting by Maori and commercial hunting by Pakeha decimated sea lion numbers around New Zealand's coastline, until legal prohibition on their hunting in 1893. Nowadays, they are affected by being caught as bycatch in the squid industry and also by declining access to preferred food sources resulting in malnutrition and starvation, and by bacterial diseases.
99 percent of the current population breed on the sub Antarctic Auckland and Campbell islands, although since the 1990s small numbers have again been breeding on the Otago Peninsula, Rakiura / Stewart Island and the rugged coastline of the Catlins.
In 2008 the population was estimated at approximately 9000. Under the Department of Conservation New Zealand Threat Classification System they are defined as Nationally Vulnerable and also own the dubious record of being the most endangered sea lion species globally.
So how did ‘Sammy’ end up in Port and what became of him? Perhaps there are locals out there who remember his visit? We would love to hear from you if you can fill in any details of his story.
‘Sammy’ is featured in Te Ūaka The Lyttelton Museum’s 2022 calendar which has an animal theme. It is now available for the very reasonable sum of $20, so grab yourself a copy today from the Museum Cabin at 35 London St, Leslie’s Bookshop, Henry Trading, Air, Sea and Land, or the Information Centre!