The World Today
Firing lead-filled beanbags at fur seals is the latest idea suggested to help protect vulnerable penguins at Kangaroo Island in South Australia.The island's Penguin Centre says it could help discourage seals from entering penguin habitats and eating them.
But the SA Environment Department is not supporting the idea.
Despite their name, the area's New Zealand fur seals are native to Australia and a protected species.
But some residents of Kangaroo Island, south of Adelaide, believe the seals are causing the decline in penguin numbers.
John Ayliffe runs the KI Penguin Centre and says in recent weeks about five penguins have been taken by seals in the Kingscote area.
"The increase in New Zealand fur seals has led to the rapid decline of penguin numbers in the area because the New Zealand fur seals are eating them," he said.
The beanbags are simply kevlar bags full of lead shot and they're discharged by a shotgun. Now because the lead shot is in a kevlar bag, it hits the seal like a punch and it will not penetrate the skin provided it's fired from sensible distances. Now seals are very smart and they move away from an area if disturbed.John Ayliffe
"There was a very strong colony at Cape Gantheaume. The New Zealand fur seals started breeding there and ate all the penguins and eventually the penguin will become locally extinct around Kangaroo Island and the southern Fleurieu [Peninsula] area."
Mr Ayliffe wants a new method tried to tackle the seals, shooting beanbags at the fur seals as a deterrent.
"The beanbags are simply kevlar bags full of lead shot and they're discharged by a shotgun," he explained.
"Now because the lead shot is in a kevlar bag, it hits the seal like a punch and it will not penetrate the skin provided it's fired from sensible distances.
"Now seals are very smart and they move away from an area if disturbed."
The idea has been raised with the state Environment Department, but it has issued this statement as a response.
"Interactions between New Zealand fur seals and penguins are a natural phenomenon over which humans have little control.
"New Zealand fur seals are native to Australia and New Zealand, including Kangaroo Island waters, and the population is only now recovering from commercial sealing."
Tim Kelly of the Conservation Council said he could understand the view of the tourism interests on the island.
"I can understand the frustration of the penguin tourist operators on Kangaroo Island wanting to do something to increase the numbers of the penguins, however, I guess we still have concerns about the state of the population of the seals," he said.
"The New Zealand fur seals are endemic to Australia. Their numbers were decimated in the 1800s with approximately 100,000 animals taken off the island.
"Their numbers are now about 25,000 and increasing, which we think is a good thing."
Other threatsMr Kelly says other threats to the penguins need to be taken into account.
"Things like dog attacks that have occurred in the past, things like nest predation is another potential problem," he said.
"We need to make sure that those things aren't continuing and aren't happening.
"Now that may not change the outcome that the natural population of penguin colonies might be much smaller."
For his part, Mr Ayliffe thinks the seals are not only endangering penguin numbers, but also other species such as cuttlefish and King George whiting.
He is among locals of KI who are keen to see the seals culled.
"You have to appreciate that Phillip Island (in Victoria) has about a million people doing a penguin tour each year, it costs each person about $200 to do that tour by the time they stay overnight and pay for meals and things," he said.
"We know that we have a better tour when the penguins are here than Phillip Island and from the state's economy and the tourist industry on Kangaroo Island this is a really necessary attraction because there are no penguins in the northern hemisphere."