22 C
Byron Shire
May 15, 2021

Leopard seal death in Byron could signify hope for the species

Latest News

Bluesfest announces October dates for 2021 festival

After two disappointing cancelations of their event, Bluesfest has announced that they will hold the 2021 festival over the...

Other News

Humans suck

Hannah Grace, Ocean Shores I heard on the local news late this afternoon (April 20) that a 370kg tuna ...

Lismore City Council declares housing emergency, wants more units

A Lismore City Council housing survey had shown more than 60 per cent of residents were living by themselves or with one other person, Cr Ekins said, prompting ‘a real need for smaller housing or units’.

How much do you know about koalas?

How well do you know your koala facts? Test your knowledge at the June 2 Koala Hard Quiz in Mullumbimby.

Locals question placing homes in areas of inundation risk

It is where the community fought off Club Med and it is once again in the spotlight as the current owners, Elements, are seeking to have the zoning of the environmentally sensitive area in Bayshore Drive changed from tourism to residential

MAYDAY – MAYDAY – One hundred years ago today

One hundred years ago this week, around noon on Saturday 14 May 1921, the 2,000 tonne steamship Wollongbar ran aground on Belongil beach.

Global predicament

Dudley Leggett – Director of Sustainability Research Institute, Suffolk Park Phillip Frazer’s article, (Echo 6 January) is an excellent summary of...

The remains of a leopard seal washed up on Broken Head in late September. PHOTO: Lina Martiniello

A few weeks ago, people in Iluka were surprised to see a leopard seal on one of the town’s pretty beaches.

Scientists said the animals weren’t normally seen that far north and warned people to stay away – with razor sharp teeth and a volatile disposition, getting too close to the leopard seal would be dangerous.

But a week or two later it was seen again further north at Lennox Head. Scientists said it looked like it had suffered a hard time since its previous stop in Iluka. They said it didn’t look well at all, skinny and sick.

More recently, its remains were found washed up on the beach at Broken Head in Byron.

But Byron Bay marine biologist Dr Mary Gardner says it isn’t that surprising to see a leopard seal so far from home.

Whereas scientists once thought leopard seals only ate penguins and fish, it turns out they also eat krill, the main source of food further away from coastal areas.

‘The young males like to roam, just like young people like to travel the world,’ she told Bay FM listeners last week, ‘they’ll go to South Africa, so on that basis, perhaps it’s not that surprising to see this sea leopard here at Broken Head’.

Can sea leopards learn to love land again?

Females usually carve out a hole in sea ice for their babies but with less sea ice compared to ten years ago, scientists have been wondering how the species will survive if they fail to figure out how to give birth on land.

But it seems sea leopards can change their spots.

Dr Gardner says a research project involving citizen science in New Zealand has documented over 3,000 sightings of leopard seals.

Females have also been known to travel further than previously thought.

‘The females, when nursing, will eat fur seal pups so they will have enough milk’, Dr Gardner says.

Studies of ancient ice show the animals have been living on New Zealand for more than a thousand years, suggesting the shift to sea ice may have been more recent than previously thought.

But so far, scientists haven’t figured out when the change happened and sea leopards have been using the sea ice holes for as long as records date.

Seals on the other side of the world have similar methods and pups without nesting holes there are at risk of being eaten by polar bears roaming the ice in desperate search of food.

‘This is partly a climate change story and also partly a story of animal resilience,’ Dr Gardner says of the sea leopard return to land.

You can hear a full interview with Dr Mary Gardner via Bay FM’s Community Newsroom.

This article has been updated with a correction: Dr Gardner says there are three months less sea ice available now compared to a decade ago, not ‘three months’ worth of sea ice left’, as previously written.

Remains of a sea leopard found washed up on Broken Head in early September. PHOTO: Lina Martiniello


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Great to see the interest in this story — I was going to write it up for the Echo and it’s been done for me! A few corrections though–
    1. not ‘3 months sea ice left’ but ‘3 months less sea ice now compared to a decade or so ago
    2. not ‘females go after males’ but females when nursing will eat fur seal pups so they will have enough milk’
    3. the vagrants or residents question: In Aotearoa/NZ the records and sightings of leopard seals are around 3,000 3 births on land 34% juveniles the rest adults including a resident in Auckland Harbour marina! The status of leopard seals is now changed from vagrant to resident, giving new protection. The middens show bones from 1200 AD: possible that the leopard seals headed south and far south as colonialists commercialised seal hunting and wiped out populations of fur seals that the leopard seal would hunt. now, as protection sees new expansion in fur seal populations, the leopard seals return.
    4. Australian shores may be of interest to leopard seals and a citizen science project would be important to observe changes in vagrancy/residency status for leopard seals.

    • Thanks Mary will fix those first two points and might leave the extra detail re NZ and call for an Aussie citizen science project to you in case you want to write a follow-up piece which might be nice, especially if you can get pics of the NZ leopard seals which I couldn’t find.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Power outage in Byron Shire

Power supply company Essential Energy says that approximately 1,780 homes and businesses were without supply this morning.

Filming of Byron Baes begins with no indigenous consultation

Filming of the Netflix series Byron Baes has reportedly commenced without any effort made by the show's production company – Eureka Productions – to consult with local indigenous groups or the local Council.

Byron Comedy Festival launched with a laugh

At a hilarious sold-out launch of the Byron Comedy Festival, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki had the entire Byron Bay Surf Club giggling last night

School Strike for Climate next Friday

Next Friday from 10am Byron Shire students will be demanding political action on the climate emergency in what they and their supporters say is our present, future and reality.