Executive Summary

Objectives & Methods
Findings & Conclusions


The New Zealand sea lion (phocarctos hookeri) is one of New Zealand’s various endangered endemic species and is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with an estimated population of 10,000 (Conservation, 2014). Due to a rapid population decline, the New Zealand sea lion could be extinct as early as 2035. Despite this, New Zealand sea lions began reemerging on mainland New Zealand to breed in 1988.

The Department of Conservation drafted a Threat Management Plan to formulate the most effective guidelines to manage threats to the sea lion population. To do this, the Department of Conservation needed to identify current threats to the sea lion population and consult various stakeholders.

The Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust had distributed various educational outreach materials; it was unknown how effective these materials communicate information to the public. The goal of this project was to identify potential educational outreach strategies to improve public knowledge and perceptions of the New Zealand sea lion.

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Objectives and Methods

This project was composed of three overarching objectives encompassing our primary goal. To achieve these objectives, our team conducted stakeholder interviews, public surveys, and educator interviews.

Objective 1: Comprehend Stakeholder Perspectives on Sea Lion Conservation

We conducted a series of meetings with key stakeholders to identify significant components of our research design. Within these interviews, we discussed critical issues regarding conservation efforts for the New Zealand sea lion. These meetings were conducted with the Department of Conservation Marine Species and Threats Team employees Laura Boren, Ian Angus, Katie Clemens-Seely, and Igor Debsky as well as Shaun McConkey from the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust. Additional meetings were held with the Department of Conservation Senior Communications Advisor Reuben Williams, Communications Manager Andrea Crawford, Conservation Services Director David Agnew, and Rangers Jim Fyfe and Jennifer Ross.

Objective 2: Assess Public Knowledge and Perceptions of the New Zealand Sea Lion

Survey data from Wellington, Dunedin, the Catlins, Invercargill, and Stewart Island was analyzed to identify of the public knowledge and perception regarding the New Zealand sea lion. We administered 384 anonymous surveys using a convenience sampling strategy. Responses were used to evaluate the knowledge that the general public has about sea lions, the general perception of sea lions, and where people obtain their information about the sea lion. This information was compared to demographic questions to establish any relationships present. Survey responses were analyzed by evaluating closed and open-ended responses. Open-ended questions were qualitatively analyzed and subsequently categorized such that they could be quantified and compared with close-ended responses.

Objective 3: Determine how to Incorporate Sea Lion Conservation Material into Primary School Programs

We conducted two interviews with primary school educators and one with a marine education center instructor. These interviews were recorded and transcribed for review and analysis. The topics of these interviews included what educators look for in educational material and how they can incorporate conservation into the curriculum. In this, we inquired about how willing teachers would be to teach about sea lion conservation. Secondly, we wanted to understand the teachers’ relationships with external organizations that provide any educational material. To accomplish this, we asked if external organizations had contacted the schools about educational material. If they had received material, we asked if the organization(s) ran workshops or provided instruction on how to utilize this material. Additionally, we wanted to know what after-school activities were available to children that teach about conservation and if teachers encouraged student attendance at community conservation events.

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Findings and Conclusions

Our findings and conclusions were drawn from background research, coordination with stakeholders, and the analysis of both survey and interview data. These six conclusions were supported through our findings and were used to create our recommendations for the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust.

One of the most important conclusions of this project was that although participants were aware of the New Zealand sea lion, the majority a low level of knowledge pertaining to the species. This conclusion is important because one of the objectives to achieve our project goal was to identify public knowledge of the New Zealand sea lion. Numerous people who had heard of the sea lion were not confident in their knowledge of the animal and did not meet the criteria for the minimum satisfactory level of knowledge that the Department of Conservation intended for the public to have. This was not unexpected, as the Department of Conservation and New Zealand Sea Lion Trust knew that very little sea lion related outreach material existed and it was limited in its range of distribution. This conclusion mostly agrees with the Department of Conservation’s speculation that the public was not well informed about the New Zealand sea lion. One incorrect prediction that the Department of Conservation had was that members of the public did not know how to act around sea lions. Our survey, however, found that people are generally both aware of how to act around and how far away to stay from sea lions.

Respondents living in-range of the New Zealand sea lion had more knowledge about the species. As expected, according to our survey results, residents living in-range were more likely to correctly identify a sea lion than those living out-of-range. From results of our survey, discussions with stakeholders, and experiences in these regions, the residents in these areas paid more attention to sea lions and were better informed than individuals from other regions. This was understandable as people typically knew more about topics they encountered regularly than subjects they rarely needed to consider. Though members of the public who reside in-range of the sea lion had more knowledge than those who live out-of-range, they still did not meet the aforementioned minimum satisfactory level of knowledge more than 41% of the time.

We determined that participants obtained their information about sea lions from a variety of sources. The most commonly learned-from sources varied between New Zealand residents and tourists as both demographics were targeted differently. Tourists were more likely to utilize visitor centers while New Zealand locals relied more on television and newspapers. Another notable trend was how sources of information differed with age. Respondents under the age of 35 typically listed social media and education as their primary sources, while those over 35 usually listed television/magazine articles and newspaper/radio. These sources may not have been utilized enough to reach full potential, resulting in the previous conclusion that people typically did not know much about sea lions.

The Department of Conservation expected public perceptions of the New Zealand sea lion in the Otago and Southland regions to be negative for a variety of reasons. On the contrary, we concluded from our research that general public perception of the New Zealand sea lion was positive. A strong majority of the public (92% of respondents) reported that they would support sharing and closing beach space to aid in conservation of the sea lion. For several, the objection to closing beaches was due not to a negative opinion of the sea lion, but rather to some respondents’ belief that they coexist already and should be able to observe and learn about the species. Additionally, most respondents reported that they enjoyed their encounters with sea lions. The Department of Conservation felt that maintaining public support could be an obstacle while implementing species management guidelines developed from the Threat Management Plan. In contrast, our research indicated that the public generally liked sea lions and was open to protection of the animal. The Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust can expect people to be more open to receiving educational material about sea lions and getting involved in conservation efforts than they expected prior to our research.

From interviews with educators, we concluded that introducing sea lion related material into schools was both feasible and welcome. In each interview, it was emphasized how much freedom teachers have in determining the topics taught in the science unit of the curriculum. Schools also encouraged their students to participate in extracurricular conservation activities such as environmental conservation groups and the William Pike Challenge Award. They also reiterated the importance of utilizing practical, hands-on methods of teaching when teaching about natural sciences. Teachers use these methods because they make students excited about learning which makes the material more interesting. The educators mentioned how conservation groups were becoming more involved in schools because they provided real-world projects for students. If there were projects that excited students about the New Zealand sea lion, teachers would be willing to consider incorporating it into their lesson plans.

As there are no interactive programs on sea lions, primary schools typically did not dedicate part of the curriculum to sea lions. Neither Carisbrook School nor Half Moon Bay School incorporated specific sea lion material in their curriculum aside from basic safety procedures if they were doing other work near the animals. Similarly, Julian Hodge, who taught in Wellington for seven years, recalled teaching about sea lions only once through a documentary. This means that an entire demographic that could be educated was not being reached. Interviewees stated that students enjoy teaching what they learned to their parents, siblings, and peers, which creates a flow of information to several other audiences.

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Through our background research, findings, and experiences during this project, we created the following recommendations for the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust:

  • The Department of Conservation or the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust implements an interactive hands-on program for primary schools in the Otago and Southland regions

  • The Department of Conservation or the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust hosts an activity at existing public fairs in Dunedin

  • The Department of Conservation or the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust implements safety around sea lions in dog training schools in the Otago and Southland regions

  • The Department of Conservation or the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust post signs warning dog walkers to control their dogs on beaches

  • The Department of Conservation releases a new, updated pamphlet

  • The Department of Conservation or the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust creates a Facebook page, online public forum, and a sea lion blog

  • The New Zealand Sea Lion Trust distributes their educational material to more schools in the Otago and Southland regions

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