BIOLOGICAL CONCERNS ABOUT THE IMPACT OF TOURISM ON FUR SEALS
Tourist disturbance can potentially impact the target species on both short and longterm scales. Short-term changes are immediate and often easily observable behavioural responses, however, these short-term changes may actually lead to long term changes that are more subtle but may impact negatively on the biology of the animal in question. New Zealand :fur seals show a high degree of site fidelity meaning that they repeatedly return to a preferred site. investigated the impact of terrain on terrestrial habitat choice of fur seals. Bradshaw also suggested that other factors including gregarious behaviour, proximity to food sources, and degree of human disturbance may influence site selection in fur seals. With increasing tourist numbers fewer seal colonies have low degrees of human disturbance and breeding colonies such as Ohau Point, and Lynch’s Reef in Kaikoura, and Tonga Island in Abel Tasman National Park are now being exposed to higher degrees of human disturbance.
Tourism may impact seals by forcing them to modify their behaviour. If seals are changing their behaviour in the presence of an outside disturbance it may lead to a change in the activity budget for an individual seal or even the colony. Cows and younger seals will typically enter the sea in the presence of an outside disturbance and this may lead to changes in foraging patterns for the seals in question. Although site abandonment might not be as likely in fur seals, it has been observed in common seals (Phoca vitulina) in response to increased boat traffic. Seals are wild animals and habituation may lead to a number of behavioural changes, which ultimately alters the integrity of the species. New Zealand :fur seals may be especially vulnerable to the effects of eco-tourism, as the prime months for tourism in New Zealand, November to February, are also the key months in the :fur seal reproductive cycle. These few months are vital for the survival of the :fur seal population. Studies on African ungulates and cetaceans have also observed tourist vehicles separating mother/young pairs. It is therefore important to understand the short and long-term implications these tourist interactions have on fur seal breeding biology.