Subject: Sea Lions/Humans:NZ fears human risk from dying (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 5 Feb 1998 09:37:28 -0500 (EST)


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Date: Thu,  5 Feb 98 13:04:00 GMT 
Subject: NZ fears human risk from dying

NZ fears human risk from dying sea lions

    WELLINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - New Zealand on Thursday
formally closed to visitors the sub-Antarctic Auckland and
Campbell Islands, fearing humans may be at risk from a
mysterious illness that has killed thousands of rare sea lion
     Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the islands, which
were due to be visited by one domestic and two international
tourist boats this month, would remain closed until the
situation had returned to normal.
     In the last week, many hundreds of Hooker sea lion pups have
been found dead on and around the islands, which are breeding
grounds for the threatened species. Scientific tests have so far
failed to establish what has caused the mass fatalities.
     No humans are known to have contracted the illness, but
Smith said it was wise to be cautious. If the cause of death was
bacterial, rather than a virus or biotoxin, there could be a
risk to humans.
     "It is wise to take a cautious approach, given scientists
have not yet identified the cause of the sea lion deaths," he
     Until there was more information, non-essential people would
be restricted from landing. This would also reduce the risk of
spreading any disease.
     Smith said advice had been sought on potential risks to
staff working on the problem and to squid fishermen who might
come into contact with sick or dying sea lions.
     "I am informed that currently there are no squid trawlers
fishing for squid in the area," Fisheries Minister John Luxton
said, adding that any squid boats entering the area would be
monitored by satellite.
     A Department of Conservation (DOC) veterinarian discovered
the dead mammals eight days ago on the remote islands, about 400
km (240 miles) south of New Zealand's South Island.
     More than 1,200 dead animals have been found and all appear
outwardly healthy and in good condition. Establishing the cause
of death could take up to three weeks, DOC said.
     Smith said the sea lions, with a population of between
11,000 and 15,000, were the most endangered in the world.