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Two sea lions touching noses on a beach.

Sea lions are getting their fur dyed for science!

Image: Edith Cowan University

Researchers in WA have started a new project tracking sea lions. These sea lions are getting a make-over with human hair dye! But first, a bit about these stylish lions of the sea.

Firstly, they’re seals, and seals are divided into three families: those without ears, those with ears, and walruses. Those with ears are called otariids, and include fur seals and sea lions.

What’s the difference?

Let’s look at seals mostly found in Australia. There are 3 species – the Australian fur seal, the New Zealand fur seal and the Australian sea lion. They can be difficult to tell apart sometimes, but their ear flaps hold a clue: the fur seals have ears that stick out and the sea lions’ ears lie flat.

Australian seals were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s. Since the 1970s they’ve been protected. While the number of fur seals is bouncing back, the Australian sea lion is listed as endangered.

Unique

The Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is a seal only found along the southern coast of Australia in WA and SA. Over the next few months, this new project will track the sea lions on six islands off the coast near Perth. This is where these sea lions haul out (rest after foraging at sea).

Their numbers have dropped by 60% over the last 40 years. Why? It could be fishing nets, pollution, disease or other reasons. The team of researchers are applying the dye-do and attaching satellite trackers to learn more.

Sea lion salon

Sea lion having dye applied while sleeping on a beach.

Scientists do the dye-do with long poles

Image: Edith Cowan University

The dye-do is a number that identifies each sea lion. To do the do, scientists put hair dye onto foam sponges in the shapes of numbers. These are attached to the end of long poles, and pressed onto resting sea lions. All up, it’s fast, safe and aims for minimal discomfort for the animal.

But beware these snoozing sea lions – they can bite! Researchers also report that their fishy farts are among the world’s smelliest. But farts aside, this new project will provide more information about Australian sea lions and help in their conservation.

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