An amazing encounter
Friday 14th December, 2012Anyone who visits Otago Peninsula's Allans Beach hopes to see a yellow-eyed penguin or a sea lion. Swiss backpackers Debbie Flueck and Alexandra Bangerter saw both - and what an encounter!
It was Saturday 8 December 2012. Debbie and Alexandra were thrilled to see a juvenile yellow-eyed penguin walking up the beach and into the dunes. But what happened next was most unexpected. The penguin suddenly, and rather rapidly for a penguin, popped out of the dunes, with a young male New Zealand sea lion in pursuit! Surprisingly the penguin seemed to think that offence is the best defence and turned around several times to face the sea lion, while moving steadily but not quickly towards the water. The sea lion was equally determined to 'round it up'. A game of cat and mouse (sea lion and penguin?) ensued. The young sea lion had no idea what to do with his unexpected visitor, but seemed intent on playing with it. Finally, after several minutes of confrontation, escape, confrontation, the penguin made it back to the water. One minute the sea lion had an unwilling playmate; the next minute the penguin was gone.
An excited Alexandra and Debbie, who took photos of the incident, visited the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust to tell their tale. The Trust identified the yellow-eyed penguin as a juvenile because of its pale feather colouring, especially around the head, and its lack of the striking yellow band seen in adults. The male sea lion was two to three years old.
Similar confrontations to that witnessed by Debbie and Alexandra have been observed by researchers on subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands where both species co-exist.
Allans Beach, on the ocean side of the peninsula, plays host to both New Zealand sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins from time to time, although the latter don't breed there. New Zealand sea lions are re-establishing a breeding population on Otago Peninsula for the first time in several centuries. Perhaps encounters of this kind will be seen more often around the peninsula's coast.