My friend knew me better than to wait for me at the carpark. She had been there numerous times and knew that I wouldn't be back anytime soon. She joined me on my walk and all of a sudden there was a large chunk of our afternoon gone - just like that! I took one look at the Fur Seal colonies from the boardwalk and all thoughts of a quick visit were dashed.
I could smell the fur seals long before I could see them. Their scent is quite distinctive! Their pungent fishy odour just sits on the wind and judging by the distance we were from the water and smell, I had a feeling that we were going to see quite a number of the animals.
I saw one, then another, and then dozens and dozens of them. Swimming seals, lounging seals, fighting seals, baby seals and snoring and belching seals. There were so many it was hard to know where to look first. It was also so windy I found it difficult to remain upright, let alone hold my camera steady. But, there was no way I was leaving. It was the most amazing sight and one I'll never forget seeing.
We followed a very long and wide boardwalk down to the headlands where rugged rocky outcrops prove to be a perfect shelter and breeding ground for the seals from the area's raging wind and waters. The boardwalk is fantastic, it makes the downhill pathway easy. The zig-zag of the boardwalk was an easy walk - much easier than having to walk down (and then back up again) hundreds of steps.
The sea at this western end of Kangaroo Island is a major pathway for seals, whales, dolphins and sharks and is part of the migration route of the highly prized Bluefin Tuna.
The seal colony at the Marine Park is sizeable. There are 2 different breeds of seal that make the park their home. One is the Australian Fur Seal and the other is the New Zealand Fur Seal. Both species were almost eradicated in the 1800's when commercial seal hunters moved onto the island.
There are only approximately 120,000 Australian Fur Seals left in the wild, making the species the world's 4th rarest species of seal. They are found only along the coastlines of the southern Australian states and rarely move away from the continental shelves.
Although the seal is under threat of extinction, it is classified as "least concern" by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Australian Fur Seals are protected nationally by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and are also protected in all Australian states in which they occur by state-specific legislation (National Seal Strategy Group and Stewardson 2007).
The Australian Fur Seal numbers have not returned to estimated pre-exploitation levels. Their numbers have seen a 7% population decline in the past few years which could be the result of a poor pupping season 3 years ago or, as well as, to the persistent bycatch mortality from trawler fishing boats and global climate change.
The New Zealand Fur Seal, 'Kekeno' in Maori, were hunted to local extinction in NZ but numbers have recovered over the past 20 years. European seal hunters wrote of taking 60,000 skins in 1804. Just 10 years later they reported skin tallies of more than 400,000. Numbers in 1994 were estimated to be 50,000, but now are approximately 200,000 with more than half of them colonising on the southern coastlines of Australia.
Their increasing numbers have unfortunately had a devastating effect on the Fairy (Little) Penguin numbers on Kangaroo Island. It's estimated that the penguin colonies have halved in recent years due to the seal being their main predator.
There have been calls for a cull or harvest of the New Zealand Fur Seal in order to protect the numbers within the Little Penguin colonies, but the State Government do not support the cull and no decision will be made with regards to the growing seal population numbers in the foreseeable future.
Over a third of Kangaroo Island is protected in nature reserves and is home to a huge variety of native wildlife like seals and sea lions, koalas, kangaroos and a diverse range of bird and reptile species.
The park is approximately 100kms from Kingscote and the road is sealed bitumen all the way. It's an easy drive in any kind of passenger vehicle. Permits are required to enter Flinders Chase National Park. The cost is approximately $20 and gives you entry into the National Park and all of its available public areas including the walking trails, Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch, Cape du Couedic lighthouse and the Fur Seal Colony. The park is a perfect day trip and will provide the visitor with many memorable Kodak moments to share.