The southern fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), or New Zealand fur seal, is generally found on the coast of the South Island of New Zealand, around the southern coast of Australia and some small islands near the two countries. In Māori (the language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand), the species is known as kekeno. Before the arrival of humans, the fur seal population was estimated to be about 2 million in New Zealand. They were taken as food by Māori, but European sealing for meat and pelts in the 18th and 19th centuries pushed them to the brink of extinction. With the decline in markets for seal products and growth in conservation efforts, the global population has increased to about 200,000 seals, with about half of these individuals found in Australia. Generally, populations are still increasing due to conservation strategies, but certain populations are in decline because of accidental capture of mature females by fisheries. The New Zealand Department of Conservation is working to ensure fisheries decrease bycatch (accidental capture) and NZ fur seal population numbers continue to rise.
Photo and haiku: Samantha Oester