Shining a light on...Sea Lions aka Bulgura of the Wirangu people of SA - Ecosilk Bags

Shining a light on…Sea Lions aka Bulgura of the Wirangu people of SA

By Emily Hay 14th June 2024

You may be wondering the connection between sea lions and reusable shopping bags and why I would be writing about them? Firstly, Australian sea lions are somehow cute, cheeky and sweet. They are endangered, with less that 6,500 mature adults left on the planet. They made the endangered list in 2021 for multiple reasons, but essentially, they need our help.

Ecosilk Bags are heavily invested in the elimination of single use plastics – which get into our waterways, break down into smaller particles and are ingested by mammals such as sea lions, which then negatively affects their health. Also, paper bags are widely promoted in Australian supermarkets as a viable alternative to single use plastic bags. The manufacturing of paper uses masses of water and contributes to eutrophication – where excess fertilisers run off into waterways, creating all sorts of environmental disasters – think blue green algae, dead fish in the Murray Darling, exploding populations of the crown of thorns on the Great Barrier Reef. Land based runoff (eutrophication) is suspected to cause birth defects, the increased likelihood of cancers and generally compromised immune systems in sea lions. Further research is required in this field.                                                                                                                                           In short, paper bags are not safe for the environment. Single use plastic bags and plastics are not good. A good quality reusable shopping bag made from fabric that has a long-life span, such as an Ecosilk bag, is the best bag to buy.                                                                    As an invested environmentalist, I believe that I can talk about sea lions and why they need our help and how we can help.
Interesting facts
• Sea lions are Australia’s only native seal.
• Sea lions, called Bulgura, are the totem of the Wirangu people – the traditional custodians of the Chain of Bays region in SA.
• Females rarely stray far from where they are born, and they always come back to their birth breeding ground to breed.
• Males like hanging out with other males when they are not busy breeding – they like to relax to be in top biological shape for the next round of pups.
• Males will travel far and wide to seek out their ideal mate and good food.
• Sea lions have the longest gestation period of marine mammals – 17.6 months – they come in just behind elephants.
• Breeding cycles occur only every eighteen months – mothers spend eighteen months teaching their pups all the life skills they will need to survive.
• This presents as one of the challenges for sea lions to survive – they have long gaps between breeding, a lengthy gestation period and then an extended time to teach the pups.
• Females make great mothers, nursing their pup for seventeen months, but up to three or more years if they don’t breed again in the subsequent season or if their new pup dies.
• Females make terrible aunties, as they can be extremely hostile to pups other than their own and can kill them.
• Pups like lobster and in the past, have got caught in pots. Sea Lion Excluder Devices (SLEDS) were implemented to prevent this in 2009 & 2013. And they work!

Humans are responsible for many challenges facing sea lions.
• Sea lions get caught in nets intended for fish, however this is being mitigated by measures introduced over the last fourteen years by government.
• Predator nets such as shark nets entangle sea lions, causing drowning & injury.
• Marine debris cause entanglement and injury.
• Loss of habitat – sea grass beds which are important for foraging – due to marine aquaculture – can cause food shortages.
• Aquaculture operators and people fishing are known to shoot, spear or club sea lions. Most deaths go unreported (of course).
• Onshore and offshore development can damage and therefore reduce habitats.
• The threat of oil spills, due to increased transport shipping, is ever present, and will cause hypothermia if fur is affected, or poisoning if ingested.
• Wildlife tourism, and just plain curious humans, although well meaning, can get too close to sea lion colonies, resulting in colony stampedes to the sea. Pups get trampled and die, mothers get separated from pups and cease to nurse, resulting in less growth and poorer health outcomes.
• Competing for food with commercial fisheries can reduce foraging and breeding outcomes.
• Climate change will have a massive effect on sea lions due to most breeding colonies being on low lying islands – the lowest will likely become submerged in the future. Other effects will be the likelihood of pups being washed off rocks due to increased storm activity. Sea lions will find it particularly hard to adapt to increased land and ocean temperatures due to reduced flexibility physiologically. This will mean they will be slow to adapt and will suffer accordingly with heat stress and a host of other issues.
How we can help, as individuals 😊
To address eutrophication and run off:
• The next time you fertilise your garden, ask yourself if you can use less. It’s so easy to just happily sprinkle on fertilisers, without thinking about the consequences for marine mammals such as sea lions.
• Use a fertiliser with either zero or low phosphorous – look for a zero (0) beside the letter (P).
• Australians love their pets – 38% of households own dogs. Dog poo contributes to eutrophication, but it is a great resource – think about composting it as a sustainable source of fertiliser. (Cat poo cannot be composted due to parasites, so must be binned, most unfortunately).
• Wash your car on your lawn, not in a driveway or on the road, to limit runoff.
• If heavy rain is predicted, fertilise your garden on another day. You will be more efficient that way, and limit eutrophication.
Fishermen & women:
• Be ever mindful of your plastic and other litter blowing offshore, off your boat and into waterways. Rubbish gets into our waterways on an individual level one piece at a time. Equally a single action to prevent this from happening will add up and will make a difference.
• Everyone hates a dobber, but deliberately killing sea lions is just plain wrong. If you can speak out, please do so, or report incidents to the relevant authorities.
Wildlife tourism and the curiosity of humans either by drone, aircraft, boat or on foot:
• No matter how incredibly exciting and interesting you think it will be to watch sea lions up close, you will cause terror and most likely multiple pup deaths, when they are trampled by stampeding adults trying to get to safety in the ocean. Mothers will abandon pups and breeding sites – they never come back. This is a fact. Sea lions deserve their sovereignty to be respected – they can’t say no, but we can, and must. Keep your distance, always.
• Raise community awareness by having a conversation about sea lions whenever possible.
Remember to use reusable shopping bags for your shopping, not plastic of any kind – thick or thin.
Ecosilk Bags has a pack of six Shoulder bags, called the Sea Lion pack – in gorgeous blue and green ocean colours. 10% of every pack is donated to AMCS – the Australian Marine Conservation Society – who were responsible for working with the government, scientists and the fishing industry to create solutions to the high number of sea lions being killed due to being too close to fishing activity.
AMCS also campaigned to close off sea lion breeding colonies from gillnet fishing – by 2022 this has resulted in an amazing reduction of 98% in sea lion bycatch mortality.
Support sea lions and buy a pack today here for $75.50. The price is increasing next week to $80.50.