The Cape Fur Seal mortality event unfolding along the West Coast was continuing with an alarming number of dead seals found in the past weeks. These dead seals were found at Melkbosstrand. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
The Cape Fur Seal mortality event unfolding along the West Coast was continuing with an alarming number of dead seals found in the past weeks. These dead seals were found at Melkbosstrand. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Horror of Cape coastal communities harming seal pups that wash ashore

By Kristin Engel Time of article published Nov 4, 2021

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Cape Town - The Cape Fur Seal mortality event unfolding along the West Coast is continuing with an alarming number of dead seals found in the past weeks.

A range of non-government organisations have called on the public to report all sightings of dead seals after several horrific cases over the past week of wildlife crimes involving the purposeful harming of seals that wash ashore.

Stellenbosch University senior lecturer and Sea Search co-director Tess Gridley said they were currently collating various records from an extensive network of different people, volunteers and organisations and although they did not have the total number of dead seals, Gridley said they were getting reports of about 40 to 50 seal deaths a day.

“Over the past week there have been many reports captured and this information is crucial to help understand what is unfolding currently. In high density areas, focused reporting teams have been marking counted seals with paint and dye to prevent double counting of the same individuals,” said Gridley.

Gridley urged the public to report sightings of dead seals to the Seafari app, the I-Naturalist app, Sea Search or to regional stranding networks, while sick pups and yearlings should be reported to the Hout Bay Seal Rescue Centre (HBSRC).

One of the dead seals in Simon’s Town recently. Picture: Tess Gridley/Sea Search
Melkbosstrand is littered with about 30 young seal pups. The Cape Fur Seal mortality event unfolding along the West Coast is continuing with an alarming number of dead seals found in the past weeks. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

While dealing with the ongoing seal deaths, HBSRC noted the horrific reports they were receiving of wildlife crimes in St Helena Bay and Britannia Bay where locals were throwing live seal pups against rocks and throwing them into the ocean to drown as well as reports of seals being clubbed and beaten to death.

“We have also been made aware of sangomas asking for seal skins, animals have been captured and put into bags and beaten to death then skinned,” said HBSRC operations director Kim Krynauw.

Gridley said all instances of purposeful harm against seals or unauthorised removal of seals and/or their body parts must be reported to the police or SPCA as soon as possible, ideally with a location pin.

“The Cape of Good Hope SPCA is aware of the beached seal incidents on our coastline. Our Wildlife team has responded to several calls over the past two weeks regarding seals in distress,” said SPCA spokesperson Belinda Abraham.

“We also urge the public to keep dogs on leads when they encounter dead or sick seals on the beach, and to maintain a safe distance,” warned Gridley.

Of all the new pups she’s seen this year, Gridley said she had not seen one healthy pup in the wild, only dead newborn pups.

“I do believe this is only the beginning of this horrific tragedy,” said Krynauw.

Local Government MEC Anton Bredell said the seals appeared to be dying due to malnutrition, but the situation was still being investigated and urged the public not to feed any seals.

West Coast Seal Project and Owl Orphanage founder Jacques Nel had been working on the ground for months and said the seals washing ashore were very skinny, which supported the recent statement from Bredell that the seals were malnourished.

However, Nel said the cause for their malnourishment needed to be addressed by the appropriate department as the issue was not going to go away and it would result in further damage to marine life and ocean resources.

Those wanting to support the groups assisting in this response effort through financial donations could donate to Sea Search Research and Conservation (https://gofund.me/8cc1f09f), Hout Bay Seal Rescue Centre (https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/hout-bay-seal-rescue) and to the Owl Orphanage: (FNB: Acc no. 62786212771, Branch 200710, Reference: name / organization)

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