Chain of Bays Chain of Bays
July 04, 2022, 06:49:22 pm *
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Australian Sea Lion

The Chain of Bays is home to approximately 10% of the World's population of the Endangered Australian Sea Lion. There are two large breeding colonies in the region, one at Nicholas Baudin Island, near Cape Blanche at Sceale Bay, and the other at Olive Island, near Cape Bauer at Corvisart Bay. There is another, much smaller breeding colony at Jones Island, at the entrance to Baird Bay, and a "haul-out" site and occasional breeding colony at Point Labatt, in Searcy Bay.

The Australian Sea Lion, Neophoca cinerea, is an eared seal, and it is the only pinniped species to be found entirely in Australian waters. The species has suffered from extensive hunting in the nineteenth century, and numbers are now estimated at approximately 12,000 in total. Males are larger (up to twice the size of females), and are coloured dark brown, sometimes with a yellowish mane and head. Male Sea Lions are known as "bulls", and they may weigh up to 300kg. Females are smaller, and are coloured silver grey. Pups are born onshore, in rocky gullies or crevices; they brown in the first year of development, prior to their first moult. The breeding cycle is very long, at 18 months, and the breeding season varies between colonies. Australian Sea Lions have a varied diet of fish, squid, crabs and other marine invertebrates. Tracking studies undertaken by Dr Simon Goldsworthy in South Australia, have demonstrated that individual Australian Sea Lions have very specific foraging grounds and foraging behaviours. Australian Sea Lions may forage individually, or in small groups, at great distances (100km), or small distances (meters) from their breeding colony. It is also believed that breeding does not occur between colonies and that each colony is genetically distinct.

Australian Sea Lions can be conveniently observed from the lookout at Point Labatt. Binoculars are recommended. A closer experience can be obtained by taking a tour with Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience, where it is possible to swim with Australian Sea Lions in the sheltered waters of Baird Bay.


The Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, is a large raptor which feeds almost exclusively on fish, which it catches by diving. The species is global in its distribution, but there are four recognised subspecies. The Australian subspecies, Pandion haliaetus subsp. cristatus, is non-migratory, and is listed (incorrectly) under the Commonwealth EPBC Act as a Migratory Species. In Australia, the Osprey is confined to the coastline, estuaries and rivers near the coast. In South Australia, the Osprey is listed as Endangered, and it is believed that there may be approximately 45 breeding pairs. It is possible that the South Australian population is genetically distinct. The bird is recognisable by its flight, which is marked by long wings with a pronounced kink, and by colouration, which is white under the wing and on the head, with barred flight feathers, dark brown back and tail, and a black band extending from the eye to shoulder. Juveniles have white ends to the feathers on the back and under the wings, and a darker band from the eye to the shoulder.

The Chain of Bays coastline is one of the few remaining areas in South Australia, along with Kangaroo Island, where the Osprey is breeding successfully. Due to the lack of tall trees, nesting sites in South Australia are confined to remote cliffs and coastal island stacks, where the birds construct large mounds of sticks, which are decorated with seaweed, kelp and marine debris during the breeding season, which occurs in Spring, between September and October. The nest selection period prior to breeding, from July to September, is also critical to the breeding success. A number of potential nests exist within a breeding territory, and a breeding pair will select one of these in each season. Ospreys have also been known to establish nests atop power-poles and even the masts of boats, where these features are left undisturbed. Eggs are hatched after five weeks, and fledging occurs after two months in the nest, in December or January. Birds may live for 20-25 years.

Raptor expert Terry Dennis has surveyed the Chain of Bays coastline and he has determined that up to eight active breeding territories exist in the region, making it critical for the survival of this species in South Australia. The geographically varied coastline of the Chain of Bays provides ideal feeding habitat in a range of wind conditions, and the isolated cliffs provide suitable nesting sites. Terry Dennis has recommended a number of management strategies for the protection of this species, including reduced disturbance pressures, especially from above the nest sites, and significant development buffers, in the order of 1000 meters, from nesting territories. Terry Dennis is currently monitoring Osprey and White-Bellied Sea Eagle activity in the region, and he would like to know of any observations of these birds in the area (08 85 527659) Click here for the Department of Environment Osprey Factsheet

White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster, is a significantly larger bird to the Osprey, and is recognisable by its white head, belly and legs. The back, base of the tail and back of the wings are grey. In flight, the belly and shoulders are white, and the flight feathers are dark grey. Juveniles are brown, and become lighter with age. In flight, the bird soars with a distinct "V" shape. This species, like the Osprey, is listed under the Commonwealth EPBC Act, as a Migratory species. White-bellied Sea Eagle has a smaller global distribution to the Osprey, and is restricted to the coastline and interior watercourses and wetlands of Australia and South-East Asia. In Australia, it is known to extend further inland than the Osprey, following major watercourses and wetlands in northern and eastern Australia. In the western part of South Australia, this species is confined to the coastal fringes, and nests in similar habitats to the Osprey.

White-bellied Sea Eagles eat mainly fish, but they are also known to eat other birds and small mammals. The hunting behaviour is a skim over the water, not a dive like an Osprey. The breeding season is in Spring, from August to October. Hatching takes about a month and a half, but fledging time is three months, with a further two months of dependency on the adult birds. White-bellied Sea Eagles may live for up to 30 years.

These birds are rare in South Australia, and like the Osprey, the Chain of Bays coastline is critical to their survival in this State. There may be as few as 55 breeding pairs in South Australia, five of which are known to inhabit the Chain of Bays region. Disturbance, particularly during the breeding season, is a major threat to these birds, and management actions similar to those proposed for the Osprey are essential for the survival of this magnificent creature in the Chain of Bays. Terry Dennis is currently monitoring Osprey and White-Bellied Sea Eagle activity in the region, and he would like to know of any observations of these birds in the area (+61 08 85 527659)

Visitors should avoid disturbing nest sites and no approaches should be made to nesting areas. These birds are particularly sensitive to approaches being made from above the nest and during the breeding season especially, a wide berth should be made around the nesting areas. Adult birds which fly above the nest emitting distress calls are a sure sign of disturbance and visitors should retreat immediately.

The sensitive breeding period for coastal raptors on Eyre Peninsula, is between July to as late as April, but breeding pairs remain in the vicinity of the nest year-round, so nest sites should be avoided at all times.

Significant Plants

One plant association, Sheoak woodlands (which are found on some dunes at the northern end of Calca Peninsula), is of conservation significance in South Australia.

West Coast Mint Bush

A beautiful and delicate flowering plant, this rare species is found along the Chain of Bays coastline, from the entrance to Baird Bay to the cliffs at Cape Bauer. It can be found in a range of coastal habitats, from low and high cliffs, to established coastal dunes. It is a small shrub with dense hairs on its branchlets and leaves, and it has red and green bell-shaped flowers.

Coastal Bead Samphire

This rare plant is highly restricted in its distribution, confined to saline wetlands. A significant population, perhaps 10% of the entire distribution of this species, is located on the margins of Seagull Lake. It is a low plant with segmented succulent branchlets, which may occasionally be found with tiny yellow flowers.

Significant Animals


There are several reptile species of conservation significance, including snakes such as the Peninsula Brown Snake, Pseudonaja inframacula; Bardick, Echiopsis curta; Master's Snake, Drysdalia mastersii; and Common Death Adder, Acanthophis antarcticus. There are numerous lizards, including, Worm Lizards; Snake-Lizards; Shingleback (Sleepy Lizard), Tiliqua rugosa; Ctenotus Skinks; Lerista Skinks; Mallee Tree Dragon, Amphibolurus norrisi; Painted Dragon, Ctenophorus reticulates; Sand Goanna, Varanus gouldii; Marbled Gecko, Christinus marmoratus; Western Stone Gecko, Diplodactylus granariensis; Thick-tailed Gecko (Barking Gecko), Underwoodisaurus milii; and Starred Knob-tailed Gecko, Nephrurus stellatus.

Small Mammals

There are some small mammals of conservation significance, including Fat-tailed Dunnart, Sminthopsis crassicaudata; Mitchell's Hopping Mouse, Notomys mitchellii; Brush-tailed Bettong, Bettongia penicillata; Western Pygmy-possum, Cercartetus concinnus; Chocolate Wattled Bat, Chalinolobus morio; and Southern Forest Bat, Vespadelus regulus.

Migratory Shorebirds and Waterbirds

There are several species of migratory shorebirds and waterbirds which are significant, including Hooded Plover, Thinornis rubricollis; Fairy Tern, Sterna nereis; Sooty Oystercatcher, Haematopus fuliginosus; Pied Oystercatcher, Haematopus longirostrus; Banded Stilt, Cladorhynchus leucocephalus; Red-necked Avocet, Recurvirostra novaehollandiae; Sanderling, Calidris alba; Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres; Australasian Grebe (Little Grebe), Tachybaptus novaehollandiae; and Eastern Curlew, Numenius madagascariensis.
Other significant birds found in the Chain of Bays include, Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines; Rock Parrot, Neophema petrophila; Australian Ringneck (Ring-necked Parrot), Barnardius zonarius; and Blue-breasted Fairy-Wren, Malurus pulcherrimus.
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