Australian Sea Lion Research & Conservation

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The Australian Sea Lion is at risk of extinction within our lifetime.

The only endemic species of sea lion in Australia, they are among the rarest marine mammals on earth. Their population is estimated to be less than 11,000 individuals strong, and this year - they have been officially listed as an Endangered species in Australia.

They are the only listed Endangered marine mammal in Australia still in decline. 

Australian Marine Park Ranger Dirk Holman has been monitoring the species for over a decade, and features in Sea Lions - Life by a Whisker.  "This film is an incredibly important piece, bringing the plight of Australian sea lions to the public. Whilst they are a beautiful & charismatic species to work with,  it is incredibly upsetting to see their numbers declining year after year. With so many pressures on ocean ecosystems we need to understand more about the stressors driving the decline, and what measures we can put in place to ultimately see the the species survive and thrive into the future." - Dirk Holman

When people ask us why we made the film 'Sea Lions - Life by a Whisker, the answer is quite simple. We cannot stand by and let this extraordinary species disappear forever.

Government funding for the continuation of Australian sea lion research and conservation continues to be reduced every year, making it harder and harder to implement and action the protections required for a species that so desperately needs our help.

The funds raised here will allow for the continuation of research and subsequent conservation of the species. For a full outline of scientific objectives, please scroll down below to 'THE SCIENCE'.


Sea Lions - Life by a Whisker is a simple story about a family of whiskers and their ocean guardian.
As we (the filmmakers) came to know the Australian sea lion, it became clear that Otto's story was yet to be told, but that it desperately needed to be. Australians often confuse (admittedly this writer included) the Australian sea lion with the Australian fur seal. Both species were hunted extensively in the 1800's for their pelts. The fur seal population is recovering. The Australian sea lion however, has not, and their population continues to decline.
Living in some of the most remote and hostile areas of the Australian coastline, the plight of the Australian sea lion is largely out of sight and out of mind for most people. They exist far from the consciousness of the majority of Australians. Consequently they continue to disappear in silence. They are facing an unsustainable, consistent, and rapid decline across their entire range.
It was this filmmakers hope that by sharing this story in an ocean far far away, a young sea lion named Otto could be the call to action that this species so desperately needs.  A simple story can paint a big picture and Sea Lions – Life by a Whisker is one such tale.
The resulting IMAX production, narrated by Sam Neil was released in 2020 to critical acclaim, winning Best Ecosystem Film at the International Wildlife Film Festival, and nominated for best cinematography in a documentary at this year's AACTA awards. But for the cast and crew that spent countless hours in remote locations in the company of the irresistible, yet completely helpless pups, the courageous mothers, and even oddly comical and loveable bulls; the most important measure of success has always been, and remains to be - the conservation of the Australian sea lion.
Otto's hero - Marine Park Ranger Dirk Holman made this film possible, opening the door to three eager filmmakers who wanted to introduce Otto to the world. Dirk is on the front line of Australian sea lion research and conservation, yet does the majority of his work completely alone. "Needless to say, being the centre of attention (alongside Otto of course) and in front of our IMAX cameras was not something that appealed to Dirk in the slightest. But fortunately for us, and for the Australian sea lion... he agreed to do it anyway" - Amelia McCarten.
Government funding for the continuation of Australian sea lion research and conservation continues to be reduced every year, making it harder and harder to implement and action the protections required for a species that so desperately needs our help.
Which brings us here. We're striving to raise the funds needed to support those that continue to stand up and fight for our only endemic species of sea lion, and to continue this critical work for not only Otto, but for her entire species.
The filmmakers, Dirk, and of course baby Otto believe that the extinction of the Australian sea lion would be an unacceptable, and completely avoidable loss.

Please scroll down for further information.
Thank you!


Funds raised will go directly to the following areas of study: Spearheaded by Marine Park Ranger Dirk Holman:
1. Maintain population surveys and improve time series and capacity to evaluate trends in abundance in colonies across the entire range of the species. This will help detect colonies which are continuing to decline, and those which may be recovering. From there, research efforts can be targeted to identify threats common to declining colonies.
- Traditional ground counts via boat, helicopter & land (Bunda Cliffs) as well as the use of UAVs where suitable
2. Foraging ecology via satellite tracking – at risk / declining colonies would have several cohorts of animals (adult females / adult males / juveniles) fitted with  satellite tracking devices. This would help identify areas of importance to each colony. These spatial areas could then be overlaid with other data to identify potential causes of decline.
3. Habitat evaluation (underwater cameras/GPS)
- Identify and map their critical habitats,
- Identify key prey species and feeding strategies.
4. Assessing body condition with UAV (drone) technology
- Assess emerging LiDAR and photogrammetry technology to measure body condition of animals between colonies – particularly colonies with declining pup production
- New technology / sensors on UAVs allows for more rapid & accurate measurements of animals without disturbance
5. Assess the impacts of ‘swim with’ ecotourism on Australian sea lions.
- “Swim with’ tours, identified as a threat in the ASL Recovery Plan, interact with animals at “haul-out” locations (not breeding colonies) where animals have come ashore to rest during or after a foraging trip. Behavioural and / or physiological studies could be undertaken to quantify the effects of these activities on the animals’ energy budget, and if this leads to short, medium and / or long-term effects on their energy budget, and ultimately overall health and breeding success.

6.   Continue to research known causes of mortality from parasites (hookworm, toxoplasmosis, Escherichia coli), disease (tuberculosis) and pollutants (heavy metals, PFAS).
-  Continue to assess the effectiveness of Ivermectin treatment in reducing pup mortality from hookworm (University of Sydney – Dr Rachael Gray - Sea lions of Kangaroo Island under threat - The University of Sydney)
- Investigate the prevalence of the above diseases in colonies in SA & WA. Correlate the colony health (body condition & pup production) with the presence / absence of diseases and pollutants
  • Alice Sexton
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    • $50 
    • 1 mo
  • Anonymous
    • $30 
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  • Jacquie Riddell
    • $50 
    • 6 mos
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    • $100 
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Life ByAWhisker
Suffolk Park NSW

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