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ESR 44:421-437 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01118

Assessment of the status and trends in abundance of a coastal pinniped, the Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea

Simon D. Goldsworthy1,2,*, Peter D. Shaughnessy1,3, Alice I. Mackay1, Frederic Bailleul1, Dirk Holman4, Andrew D. Lowther5, Brad Page6, Kelly Waples7, Holly Raudino7, Simon Bryars8, Tim Anderson9

1South Australian Research and Development Institute, West Beach, South Australia 5024, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
3South Australian Museum, North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia
4Department for Environment and Water, Port Lincoln, South Australia 5066, Australia
5Norwegian Polar Institute, Framsentret, 9296 Tromsø, Norway
6Department of Primary Industries and Regions, Urrbrae, South Australia 5064, Australia
7Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Kensington, Western Australia 6151, Australia
8Department for Environment and Water, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia
9Helifarm, Ceduna, South Australia 5690, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Australian sea lions Neophoca cinerea are endemic to Australia, with their contemporary distribution restricted to South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA). Monitoring of the species has proved challenging due to prolonged breeding events that occur non-annually and asynchronously across their range. The most recent available data from 80 extant breeding sites (48 in SA, 32 in WA) enabled us to estimate the species-wide pup abundance to be 2739, with 82% (2246) in SA and 18% (493) in WA, mostly based on surveys conducted between 2014 and 2019. We evaluated 1776 individual site-surveys undertaken between 1970 and 2019 and identified admissible time-series data from 30 breeding sites, which revealed that pup abundance declined on average by 2.0% yr-1 (range 9.9% decline to 1.7% growth yr-1). The overall reduction in pup abundance over 3 generations (42.3 yr) was estimated to be 64%, with over 98% of Monte Carlo simulations producing a decline >50% over a 3-generation period, providing strong evidence that the species meets IUCN ‘Endangered’ criteria (decline ≥50% and ≤80%). The population is much smaller than previously estimated and is declining. There is a strong cline in regional abundances (increasing from west to east), with marked within-region heterogeneity in breeding site pup abundances and trends. Results from this study should improve consistency in the assessment of the species and create greater certainty among stakeholders about its conservation status. To facilitate species management and recovery, we prioritise key data gaps and identify factors to improve population monitoring.


KEY WORDS: Australian sea lion · Declining population · Endangered species · IUCN Red List Criteria · South Australia · Western Australia


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Cite this article as: Goldsworthy SD, Shaughnessy PD, Mackay AI, Bailleul F and others (2021) Assessment of the status and trends in abundance of a coastal pinniped, the Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea. Endang Species Res 44:421-437. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01118

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