New Zealand Subantarctic Islands IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

105,928 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

New Zealand sea lion – Phocarctos hookeri

Criterion A; B (i); C (i; ii)

Southern right whale Eubalaena australis  

Criterion C (i)

New Zealand fur seal – Arctocephalus forsteri  

Criterion C (i)

Southern elephant seal – Mirounga leonina 

Criterion C (i, ii)

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Lagenorhynchus obscurus, Lagenorhynchus cruciger, Megaptera novaeangliae, Balaenoptera physalus, Balaenoptera musculus, Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda, Globicephala melas, Physeter macrocephalus, Orcinus orca, Hydrurga leptonyx


The Auckland Islands are an archipelago of New Zealand, lying 465+ kilometres south of the South Island of New Zealand. Most of the islands have a volcanic origin, with the archipelago dominated by two 12-million-year-old Miocene volcanoes, subsequently eroded and dissected. Campbell Island is the remains of a shield volcano, characterised by large cliffs, boulder beaches and a few sandy bays. It lies 660 km south of the South Island, and it is New Zealand’s southernmost island. Its marine environment comprises a narrow band of sea about 100 m deep around Campbell Island and its islets, dropping to 200 m at the limit of the territorial sea (12 nautical miles). There is an existing marine reserve, created in 2014, that covers 39% of this territorial sea and a “type 2 marine protected area” covering the rest of the territorial sea. The existing marine reserve and the type 2 marine protected area, however, do not cover the main feeding ground for the marine mammal populations feeding around Campbell Island. New Zealand sea lions have a highly restricted distribution for a marine mammal. Their primary habitat is several sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand, and their surrounding waters. The principal breeding colony is at the Auckland Islands, with most of the remaining animals breeding at Campbell Island (Maloney et al. 2012).

New Zealand fur seals occur around both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, with newly formed breeding colonies now established on the North Island and established and predominantly expanding breeding colonies around the entire South Island (Bradshaw et al. 2002). There are well-established and expanding colonies also found on Stewart Island and all of New Zealand’s Subantarctic islands, including Campbell and Auckland Islands. Southern elephant seals have a nearly circumpolar distribution in the Southern Ocean with most haul-out sites occurring on Subantarctic and Antarctic islands (Hofmeyr 2015). Three distinct stocks are recognised, centred on South Georgia, Kerguelen, and Macquarie Islands (Laws 1960). There is little interchange between these and each displays phenotypic differences in size, growth, and onset of maturity (Laws 1979). The Macquarie Island stock includes the small populations breeding at Campbell and Antipodes Islands (Taylor et al. 1989). This population has been continuously decreasing for the past seven decades (McMahon et al. 2005; Hindell et al. 2016).

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The endemic New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) (NZSL) exhibits a highly restricted breeding range, and was recently upgraded to endangered on the IUCN Red List (Chilvers 2015) and has Nationally Vulnerable status under the New Zealand threat classification system (Baker et al. 2019).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion Bi: Small and Resident Populations 

Current numbers are estimated at 11800 individuals including pups (Roberts and Doonan 2016) with breeding populations extending from South Island New Zealand to sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, and exhibiting marked variations in size and trajectories (Childerhouse and Gales 1998). The breeding population of New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) is almost exclusively (98%) contained within the Auckland Island (68%) and Campbell Island (~30%) regions. The maternal care period lasts around 11 months meaning that adult females and pups are resident in the region year-round. Little is known regarding juvenile dispersal at the two sites, however there are indications that juveniles behave as central place foragers at both sites from tracking studies (Leung et al. 2012, Leung et al. 2013, Leung et al. 2014).

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion Ci: Reproductive Areas

These islands are the primary breeding grounds for the New Zealand sea lion. The largest population, on the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, accounts for an estimated 68% of the overall annual pup production, while the Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku and Stewart Island populations contribute ~30% and 2% respectively (DOC/MPI 2017). Marine mammal work on Campbell Island is concentrated on New Zealand sea lions, thus little data exists for fur seal breeding colonies in this region. However, there is a breeding colony at Rocky Beach, with at least 10 pups seen in some seasons, but surveys here are not regular (Baird 2011). The Macquarie Island southern elephant seal stock includes the small populations breeding at Campbell and Antipodes Islands (Taylor et al. 1989).

Southern right whales have a circumpolar distribution in the Southern Hemisphere. The main breeding area for genetically distinct New Zealand whales is the Auckland Islands with increasing numbers of juvenile whales at Campbell Island, a very few cow-calf pairs (Patenaude et al. 1998, Carroll et al. 2014, Torres et al. 2016, Carroll et al. 2019). The most recent abundance estimates from 1995-2009 is 2169 whales (95% CL 1836, 2563) with population growth rate of 7% (Carroll et al. 2014). Whilst whale numbers peak in winter, a few calls were detected over the broader summer months (Webster et al. 2019).

Sub-criterion Cii: Feeding Areas

The waters surrounding the Auckland and Campbell Islands provide key foraging habitat for New Zealand sea lions. At the Auckland Islands, sea lions of various age classes (Leung et al. 2012; 2013) and most commonly adult females forage across the continental shelf and shelf edges in the area north and northeast of Enderby Island (Chilvers et al. 2013). Tracking data from male southern elephant seals have shown that they use the shelf habitat associated with the Campbell plateau for foraging (Pascoe et al. 2016).

Supporting Information

Baird, S. J. 2011. New Zealand fur seals: summary of current knowledge. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 72, Ministry of Fisheries 50pp.

Baker, C. S., Boren, L., Childerhouse, S., Constantine, R., van Helden, A., Lundquist, D., Rayment, W., Rolfe J. R. 2019. Conservation status of New Zealand marine mammals, 2019. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 29. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Bradshaw CJA, Davis LS, Purvis M, Zhou Q, Benwell GL. 2002. Using artificial neural networks to model the suitability of coastline for breeding by New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri). Ecological Modelling 148:111-131

Brownell, J. R. L., & Cipriano, F. 1999. Dusky dolphin, Lagenorhynchus obscurus (Gray, 1828). Handbook of marine mammals: the second book of dolphins and the porpoises, 85-104.

Carroll, E. L., Childerhouse, S., Fewster, R., Patenaude, N. J., Steel, D., Dunshea, G. 2014. Accounting for female reproductive cycles in a superpopulation capture recapture framework. Ecological Applications 23: 1677–1690

Carroll., E. L., R. Alderman, J. L. Bannister, M. Berube, P. B. Best, L. Boren, C. S. Baker, R. Constantine, K. Findlay, R. Harcourt, L. Lemaire, P. J. Palsbøll, N. J. Patenaude, V. J. Rowntree, J. Seger, D. Steel, L. O. Valenzuela, M. Watson, O. E. Gaggiotti. 2019. Incorporating non-equilibrium dynamics into demographic history inferences of a migratory marine species. Heredity 122: 53-68

Childerhouse, S., and N. Gales. 1998. Historical and modern distribution and abundance of the New Zealand sea lion Phocarctos hookeri). New Zealand Journal of Zoology 25:1-16.

Chilvers, B. L., S. J. Childerhouse, and N. J. Gales. 2013. Winter foraging behaviour of lactating New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri). New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 47:125-138.

DOC/MPI. 2017. New Zealand Sea Lion/rāpoka Threat Management Plan (2017-2022). New Zealand Government, Wellington, New Zealand.

Hindell, M. A., C. R. McMahon, M. N. Bester, L. Boehme, D. Costa, M. A. Fedak, C. Guinet, L. Herraiz-Borreguero, R. G. Harcourt, L. Huckstadt, K. M. Kovacs, C. Lydersen, T. McIntyre, M. Muelbert, T. Patterson, F. Roquet, G. Williams, and J. B. Charrassin. 2016. Circumpolar habitat use in the southern elephant seal: implications for foraging success and population trajectories. Ecosphere 7:e01213.

Hammond, P.S., Bearzi, G., Bjørge, A., Forney, K., Karczmarski, L., Kasuya, T., Perrin, W.F., Scott, M.D., Wang, J.Y., Wells, R.S. & Wilson, B. 2008. Lagenorhynchus obscurus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T11146A3257285

Hofmeyr, G.J.G. 2015. Mirounga leonina. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T13583A45227247

Laws, R. 1960. The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina Linn.) at South Georgia. Norsk Hvalfangst-Tidende 49:446-476.

Leung, E. S., A. A. Auge, B. L. Chilvers, A. B. Moore, and B. C. Robertson. 2013. Foraging behaviour of juvenile female New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) in contrasting environments. PLoS ONE 8:e62728.

Leung, E. S., B. L. Chilvers, S. Nakagawa, A. B. Moore, and B. C. Robertson. 2012. Sexual Segregation in Juvenile New Zealand Sea Lion Foraging Ranges: Implications for Intraspecific Competition, Population Dynamics and Conservation. PLoS ONE 7:e45389.

Leung, E. S., B. Louise Chilvers, A. B. Moore, and B. C. Robertson. 2014. Do yearling New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) learn foraging behavior from their mothers? Marine Mammal Science 30:1220-1228.

Maloney, A., B. L. Chilvers, C. G. Muller, and M. Haley. 2012. Increasing pup production of New Zealand sea lions at Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku: can it continue? New Zealand Journal of Zoology 39:19-29.

McMahon, C. R., M. A. Hindell, H. R. Burton, and M. N. Bester. 2005. Comparison of southern elephant seal populations, and observations of a population on a demographic knife-edge. Marine Ecology Progress Series 288:273-283.

Pascoe, P., M. A. Lea, R. H. Mattlin, C. R. McMahon, R. Harcourt, D. Thompson, L. Torres, K. Vinette-Herrin, and M. A. Hindell. 2016. Assessing the utility of two- and three-dimensional behavioural metrics in habitat usage models. Marine Ecology Progress Series 562:181-192.

Patenaude, N. J., C. S. Baker, N. J. Gales. 1998. Observations of southern right whales on New Zealand’s subantarctic wintering grounds. Marine Mammal Science 14:350-355

Roberts, J., and I. Doonan. 2016. Quantitative Risk Assessment of Threats to New Zealand Sea Lions. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 166. Ministry for Primary Industries, Wellington, New Zealand, pp.111

Stewart, R., and Todd, B. 2001. A note on observations of southern right whales at Campbell Island, New Zealand. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 2:117–120

Taylor, Rowland H., and Graeme A. Taylor (1989). Re‐assessment of the status of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 23: 201-213.

Torres, L. G., Rayment, W., Olavarría, C., Thompson, D. R., Graham, B., Baker, C. S.,  & Carroll, E. L. (2017). Demography and ecology of southern right whales Eubalaena australis wintering at sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, New Zealand. Polar Biology 40:95-106

Webster, T.A., S. M. Van Parijs, W. J. Rayment, S. M. Dawson. 2019. Temporal variation in the vocal behaviour of southern right whales in the Auckland Islands, New Zealand. Royal Society Open Science 6: 181487

Würsig, B., Cipriano, F., Slooten, E., Constantine, R., Barr, K., and Yin, S. 1997. Dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) off New Zealand: status of present knowledge. Reports to the International Whaling Commission 47: 715–722


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