ON International Seal Day, a Phillip Island Nature Parks researcher is appealing to local fishers not to discard fishing line.
Marine scientist Rebecca McIntosh says the most common entanglement for seals is recreational fishing line. “If people put their rubbish – like fishing lines and bait bags in the bins – we’ll make a real difference to the health of the seal population.
“There could be up to 300 seals a year who are trapped and injured by marine waste across the population. At Seal Rocks, we can see up to 11 individuals per field trip and we release about half of those we see.
Seal Rocks is the largest colony of Australian fur seals. Thousands of fur seals around Phillip Island have just been counted as part of a five-yearly census to determine the health of the population.
The five-yearly census of Australian fur seals began 20 years ago to better understand their populations after over-harvesting in the 1800s almost drove them to extinction.
Dr McIntosh said the local adult population is currently stable with an estimated 20,000 fur seals using Seal Rocks as their base.
The previous censuses in 2013 and 2017 showed seal pup numbers had declined by 22 per cent. Research suggests that toxicants in the ocean and disease are contributing to reduced pup survival. The females are having a pup every year, but they do not all survive.
The pups are used as an index of the population because they are easy to count, being all ashore at one time compared to adults that leave to find food.
The census is performed using a combination of drone surveys and counts on the ground. Phillip Island Nature Parks researchers visited sites from Seal Rocks at Phillip Island, west to Cape Bridgewater and east to The Skerries and Gabo Island near Mallacoota.
The results of census take several years to analyse and review before they are made public.