New Zealanders learn to share space as their long - absent sea lions come home.

They have surprised the users of public toilets and stopped a children's soccer match by ambling onto the field. They have frolicked in a community swimming pool and shut down an urban road for weeks.

One even gave birth near the 13th hole of a golf course.

New Zealand sea lions once flourished along the island nation's coasts. Over hundreds of years, human hunting reduced their numbers and drove them to sub-Antarctic islands hundreds of miles south.

But in recent decades the animals - which are among the world's rarest sea lions species - began, slowly and unexpectedly, to return to New Zealand's main islands.

It is a conservation story of hope and possibility. But with many of the sea lions' former breeding grounds now populated by humans, scientists say that this time, New Zealanders will have to learn to share.

A new study suggests a new way to do that with a combination of algorithmic modeling that predicts where species will settle on-the-ground information from those who regularly encounter the animals.

But man-made hazards like roads and fences, which do not always appear on maps, can be overlooked in algorithmic modeling, meaning that predictions of where the sea lions will roam can be way off.

By working closely with wildlife rangers and sea lion experts, New Zealand's Department of Conservation, which helped fund the research, hopes to better identify appealing habitats and spot potential threats to the animals in a more accurate and realistic way than before.

[ Charlotte Graham-McLay ]


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