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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

Simon D. Goldsworthy*, Peter D. Shaughnessy, Alice I. Mackay, Frederic Bailleul, Dirk Holman, Andrew D. Lowther, Brad Page, Kelly Waples, Holly Raudino, Simon Bryars, Tim Anderson

*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 2716, 82% (2223) in SA, and 18% (493) in WA, mostly based on surveys 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, for which the average rate of decline was –2.0% yr–1 (range –9.9% to 1.7% yr-1). The overall reduction in pup abundance over 3 generations (42.3 years) 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.