Taronga’s new male Australian Sea-lion pup is just a few weeks old and is already telling his keepers who’s the boss.
Senior Marine Mammal Keeper, Ryan Tate, said: “He’s been showing everyone who’s boss, pushing his whiskers forward, bellowing and mock charging at us. It’s pretty impressive for an animal that had a rocky start to life.”
The little male, while still covered in the soft, downy ‘lanugo’ fur of an infant, even helped his mother learn to feed him. Lexie was initially reluctant to roll onto her side for the pup to suckle, but he persisted, even nipping her until she allowed him to feed.
The youngster was the first pup born to mother Lexie, an orphan from South Australia, after seven years of trying. He was sired by Malie, a magnificent Australian Sea-lion bull born at Adelaide Zoo, who came to Taronga as part of the regional breeding program for these sea-lions.
The pup has been named ‘Maximus’, a combination of his parents’ names, by keepers with special input from a long-term supporter of Taronga’s marine mammal programs.
Ryan said: “He’s now been putting on 100 grams a day. He began learning to swim a few weeks ago in a special pool we have in which we can control the depth. At first he was just walking through puddles, then as he got more confident Lexie started calling him into deeper water.”
The youngster can now be spotted with his mother in the pools at Seal Cove above the Zoo’s Lower Entrance. “Max spends most of his time exploring the exhibit and we’ve seen him playing in the waterfall, trying to catch the water with his mouth and barking at it. He’s also just started swimming in the main pool with mum.”
Ryan said the Australian Sea-lions are among the most intelligent of this species. They will hide things from their keepers to play with later and building a bond of trust is very important when working with them.
The birth is exceptionally significant genetically, with as few as 10,000 Australian Sea-lions remaining in the wild. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List for threatened species says this unique native animal is endangered.
Sea-lions were hunted in the 1800s with their populations falling to very low numbers when this stoped in the 1920s. Despite now being protected, numbers have not re-bounded and wild sea-lions often become a by-catch of fisheries or become entangled and fatally injured by marine debris.
They can be found from Esperance in Western Australia to South Australia.