CAPE TOWN - The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) says there is no clear indication yet that the death of hundreds of Cape fur seals along the West Coast was linked to the avian influenza outbreak.
Hundreds of emaciated Cape fur seals, including premature pups and sub-adult females, have been washing up at Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay and Paternoster along the West Coast.
Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell said officials had looked into the matter for several weeks, and it appeared that the seals were dying due to malnutrition.
Director of Sea Search and Honorary Research Associate at Stellenbosch University, Dr Simon Elwen, added that the seals were starving and the starvation was caused by lack of food.
“Seals are 'generalists' - i.e they have a flexible diet and eat whatever is available, so if they are starving then you know there is a real lack of food,” he said.
Preliminary observations from the DFFE Team confirmed that the carcasses had signs of undernourishment/malnutrition.
However, the department said it was not clear if this was “mainly food shortages related or other underlying health related causes”.
Chief executive and founder of AfriOceans Lesley Rochat said changes in the availability of prey species in the Benguela caused by overfishing, and climate change were a factor.
"This is only the beginning and we can expect more of the same into the future as globally many marine species are dying due to overexploitation, climate change effects, habitat destruction and pollution,” Rochat said.