Sunday, May 6, 2012


I recently attended PSNZ's National Convention in Invercargill, Southland. A big thanks once again to the Ronald Woolf Memorial Trust for helping fund my trip!!! I had a fantastic time meeting fellow photographers from all over New Zealand and Australia, it was great to put faces to names, join in on some great tutorials, workshops, field trips and spend time listening to some inspiring speakers. It was really enjoyable being able to immerse myself in photography in such a wonderfully warm and friendly environment.

The convention also gave me a good opportunity to explore the Southland area. I gave myself a few days either side of the convention to photograph the wildlife in and around the Catlins coast. The Catlins is an area of unspoilt beauty and home to numerous species of marine life due to the nutrient rich waters. I particularly wanted to concentrate on two rare marine species the yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) and the New Zealand sea lion (hookers sea lion).

|  Rough seas, Curio Bay, Southland  |

I love photographing penguins and the yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho were the first stop on my Southland adventure, I had a fantastic time photographing the yellow-eyes and it was great being able to spend some time with the rarest penguin in the world. I arrived in the small coastal township of Moeraki mid-afternoon after the drive from Christchurch and I was really looking forward to getting out of the car and exercising my legs and shutter finger :) As with many penguins species, their loud shrill-like calls alerted me to their presence before getting a sighting, in fact their Māori name, hoiho means 'noise shouter'. Moeraki has great access to the penguins, although the area is heavily fenced off due to the many penguin nesting sites! Fortunately the penguins don't stick within the fences and roam about freely allowing for some great interaction and photographic opportunities. Although the fencing can be a little frustrating for a photographer, the fence's importance was reinforced when I witnessed three tourists literally chase a highly stressed penguin around in hope of getting a snapshot standing next to the poor bird!!! Not all people unfortunately put the welfare of the penguins above a photograph.    

Yellow-eyed penguins are unique to New Zealand and found scattered along the south-east of the South Island. I gave myself a few days after the convention to photograph the yellow-eyed penguins in the Catlins, although I found myself hunkered down for the majority of the time in a little old caravan sheltering from the gale force winds, antarctic wind blasts and downpours of hail, which made a deafening noise against the roof of the caravan - a real glimpse of Southland's dark side! The winds did whip up some impressive swells and I was able to get out in between hail storms and photograph the power of the ocean! It amazes me the swells that the yellow-eyed penguins go out in, and even though they can seem a little clumsy on land, they are the most powerful swimmers!     

|  Surat Bay, Southland  |

Photographing large mammals such as sea lions challenged me in terms of composition; how I fill the frame with my relatively small avian subjects was quite different to how I positioned an adult sea lion. I also found that being at the whim of a 400kg bull sea lion's unpredictable temperament definitely made me more aware of my surroundings. I found the sea lions relatively placid even though I was mock charged a couple of times, especially when testosterone was flying during a play flight or spar. On one occasion I was laying in the sand photographing a female on the Northern end of Surat Bay, there were no other sea lions visible, and I happily spent some time behind the camera confident that there were no other sea lions around. As I snapped away I was unaware of a bull sea lion which was bounding toward me, it must have been sleeping in the high dunes behind the beach... I was alerted by the vibrations in the sand and I can honestly say I don't think I've ever ran so fast - I definitely didn't let my guard down after that, even though probably a playful gesture - I don't think I could handle a sea lion's rough play :) 

|  What you looking at?, Cannibal Bay  |

New Zealand sea lions or Hooker's sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) are now listed as "nationally critical" and are the world's rarest sea lion. This is the highest threat category in New Zealand and puts them in the same category as the kakapo and Maui’s dolphin! Any species that has undergone a greater than 70% population decline over a period of less than three generations is considered “nationally critical”. Hunting of the sea lions drove them from the NZ mainland approximately 200 years ago, although in the last few years they have slowly made a comeback and there are roughly 150 based on the New Zealand mainland. In 1993 a wonderful thing happened in the small village of Taieri Mouth on the Otago Coast! A solitary female came ashore and gave birth to pup on a local farm, this is believed to be the first pup born on the NZ mainland in over 200 years! Currently the greatest impacts on sea lions are through fisheries by-catch and disease, every year New Zealand sea lions drown due to incidental entanglement in a number of fisheries. Their limited breeding range makes them vulnerable to disease and there have been three mass epidemics of disease over the last 7 years. A Department of Conservation study says that NZ sea lions could be extinct in the next 24 years if there are not tighter restrictions on squid fishing.

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  1. Gorgeous images Jonathan. You certainly made the most of your time. The interaction in the sea lion shots is what we would all love to capture (I seem to see solitary ones when I visit Surat Bay). I imagined you would have had stormy weather on your return journey (I wonder how the ones who went to Doubtful Sound fared). Great to see the south showed all it's weather vices to it's visitors!

    1. Thanks Glenda! Yeah it was great to see some interaction between the sea lions. The temperature really dropped that Sunday night and that wind really whipped up the swell - I wonder how protected they were in Doubtful! Did you do any photography on the way back home?

    2. I waited around in Invercargill for a while hoping the weather would improve & I could go back to the estuary to check out the gull billed tern, or go out to the bay - but the weather turned atrocious just like you encountered in the Catlins. So I just returned home, with few images of note. That's bird photography!!

  2. Excellent shots and wonderful pictures.

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  3. Are there fishermen who are still killing these sea lions? I’ve watched a documentary at Discovery channel wherein a number of fishermen were eating sea lions just to defeat hunger. Is this action legal?
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  4. Some great images. Impressive blog.