Seal Alert-SA Catamaran Re-launch (Recovering Seals Home from Home)
From: SEAL ALERT-SA
Date: May 6, 2007

Dear All Cape Fur Seal Supporters,


 

     Over the years both you and I have funded various pieces of equipment for the seals, over the coming weeks as each part is complete in a total overall Seal Alert-SA is presently conducting, I will be bringing you a detailed account of why each piece of equipment is neccessary, unique to Seal Alert-SA and vital for the seals.
 
     In the first step, is colour. I have found seals distinguish colour and develop familarity with the shape of the object, and often get confused if a similar coloured boat or rubber-duck approaches them (thankfully most pleasure boats are white). Disentangling them or approaching them, I have found grey to be the an exceptable colour, but with the boats and rafts, it stains easily from their excretment. So our revamp for 2007, will involve all equipment being painted black. Heat in summer might be a problem, and slowly I will look at camoflague (for our next revamp) and whether it aids in working amongst them in the wild.

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      As you know seals are banned from all large islands off South Africa (their preferred and endemic breeding habitat). They are restricted to breeding and living on small awash rocks less than 2 ha. Of the 1000 ha of protected offshore island land, seals can only haul-out or bred on 10 ha or 1%. Being the Cape of Storms, haul-out for a number of reasons on the coastline, least of all the disturbance by man, has left these wild seals with little options when sick, with regard to suitable habitat. Fishery and Conservation officials in their naive wisdom believe that no longer can seals and seabirds share the islands, and as such have declared 99% of the islands, exclusive seabird sanctuaries.
 
     In the natural order of things, weak and injured seals would congregate on a specific island, dubbed the seal hospital, and attempt their own recovery.
 
     So what happens to an injured or sick seal on an awash rock overcrowded colony? As a natural behaviour, when seals become injured or sick, their response as they decline in health, is to break away from one of the nine colonies, become loners and forage alone. As they chill and get cold, and weak, they seek out safe habitat to attempt to regain strength and recover on a daily basis, away from the hussle and buzzle of a healthy active colony, mostly at night. Many haul-out on beaches, only be to continously disturbed and infected with a range of land-based diseases and bacteria. Predominately whatever their injury or sickness, these will cause the seals to forage more and more unsuccessfully (particularly as overfishing and collapsed fisheries increases), and with which they slowly starve to death. As a secondary defence mechanism, seals injured behave far more nervously, as they know they are vulnerable, to which repeated harassment causes stress, which leads to further immune system breakdowns, sickness, convulsions and death, as they approach closer to the coastline and man more frequently.
 
     Most seal rescue approaches is to remove the stranded marine mammal (seal) away from its watery habitat, which is like taking a dying dog and throwing him into the sea to treat him. Seals should be kept in their natural habitat, which is primarily first, the sea. The myth that seals must be handled to treat them, remains just that a myth.
 
     A floating offshore platform therefore becomes essential to not only providing a safe and secure area to recover, but assists in identifying the ones needing help (instead of continous swimming in an endless sea), and most importantly it allows me the oppurtunity to approach each wild seal to facilitate disentanglement or treatment. Upon this facility, the need to therefore capture, restrain or confine, becomes obselete. This becomes their natural floating, home away from home, with all the familar sounds and smells they are relaxed with. Instantly, I am accepted into the Seal-Family as one of the pack, this is aided by the accepting behaviour of the older seals in the group who have developed a trust with me. Much of this acceptance, is based on smell, and soon my unique scent, is accepted and easily distinguishable from other humans. With the surrounding water providing a natural barrier between harassing members of the public and these dying seals. Over 500 000 seals in the last 30 years have disappeared without trace. Killed, drowned or have sunk to the bottom. Along the South African coastline, daily over 100 seals are in the throngs of non-survival and dying, with 100 new victims being added every day. Placing such a facility acts as a natural magnet, for almost daily at least one new victim to find safe sanctuary - and get the help they deserve, as we are ultimately the cause.
 
    Floating offshore structures come at a premium, and increase as the length increases. For example, a 24ft catamaran ski-boat (as we have above) can be purchased for R50 000, 26-ft R110 000, 30ft R350 000, 36ft R450 000 and 40ft and above over R1 million. Ideally what Seal Alert-SA needs to conduct its 1-3 seal rescues a day (1000 a year) and continue with their 3 - 12 months of rehab, is a 40ft (live-abroad) catamaran, but at over R1 million, a sum in funding Seal Alert-SA has never come close to, as such, we have had to make the most of the smallest entry-level craft possibly suitable for the task at hand. Ideally as well, I would like to remain stationary at night (for the weak seals to locate) and then at day-time motor out to the various seal colonies (weather and sea-state permitting), with the 1-50 recovering seals on-board, administering their treatments and fed, as we go - as this is where the seals need the most help.

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      One needs to fully understand the context of our work, besides the 90 000 seals being clubbed in Namibia and the resultant fleeing of weanlings, thousands are drowned in trawl nets and shot, this is besides all the other needs of seal rescue. Found over 3000 km of coastline, dispersed amongst 9 main colonies, there is not a single organization dedicated, equipped or able to address the needs of these thousands of seals, each and every year needing help. Seal Alert-SA's one-man operation is all there is between life, suffering and death along this entire coastline, although based in Hout Bay. For hundreds of years, and most recently in decades, these injured seals, involving tens of thousands yearly, had no hope of assistance - until now. Seal Alert-SA strongly believes South African's should be ashamed of their ignorance and disregard for the welfare of this species. In comparison, companion animals (dogs and cats), most of which are not endemic, natural or protected or endangered, have over 100 SPCA's caring for their needs as well as numerous other, well funded domestic rescue or shelter organizations in South Africa alone. Bearing in mind that most members of the public would respond equally and instantly to helping an injured dog or cat, and ensuring that it receives treatment at a vet, whereas seals have nothing. Likewise there are thousands of private vets geared for helping companion animals.
 
     Costs of medically assisting a dog or cat, a few hundred rand, whereas seals cost thousands.
 

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         Last pupping season, you and in particular Beauty Without Cruelty's Chairperson Beryl Scott made funding available for the catamaran above, and we quickly converted it for a baby pup rehab facility, with internal splash pool, ramp and inside cabin for safety. It worked very well ( and I still believe that this is the future way to go, but the boat must be bigger and the cost of acquiring at R1 million prohibative). The downfall came, that ski-boats are not designed to stay afloat all year round and are weight specified, 50 large bulls weighing collectively over 10 tons, played havoc with keeping the boat afloat that is designed for a maximum of 6 crew, eventually causing it to submerge. Even a fence around the boat to protect the babies, was quickly demolished.
 
        So thanks to an unanoumous supporter and Seashepherd (
www.seashepherd.org), we have removed the engines and internal fuel tanks, all holes were plugged and a new deck laid, underneath hundreds of floatation bottles were installed, and the deck sealed. Then another splash-deck was built, as 50 seals eating 150kg's a day, urinate and excrete large volumes, and as hygiene in rescue, together with a one-man operation, design must be such that cleaning is made easy - like it works on the islands.
 
       The catamaran with the two rafts alongside, will give me a working platform of 30sqm, and based on offshore densities, this area can therefore accomodate over 100 seals. In the coming weeks the boat will be tested for its floatation ability, prior to introducing the three babies, as it would be a disaster if the boats sinks when they are released to take up residency on it for their stage 2 part of their rehab.
 
      I have found floating facilities like this are far better for seal rehab, than any seal centre. As far as I am aware Seal Alert-SA is the only seal rescue organization in the world to be in development with this type of out-the-box thinking. Where instead of building aquatic environments for containing the seals, the natural sea with all its effective rehab properties is used, and instead the design is towards a haul-out/working platform. To illustrate further, although this boat at 8m is entry-level, its ability with the two rafts is such that it can assist 1-100 recovering seals, in comparison our existing two pool seal centre, would need to be expanded 12 times to accomodate this number internally and instead of the 30sqm boat space, a pool area combined of over 625sqm or 25 pools would be required, with all the neccessary filter and filtration pumps, cleaning, maintaince and hygiene, and labour neccessary in keeping such a large facility. Making my existing one-man operation impossible, with labour costs of keeping said facility clean, running into hundreds of thousands.
 
     Present downfall of said platform, is its small size, non-moveability in journeying out to sea and the fact that all feed and medication needs to be swum to the facility, with no overnight or adverse weather protection. Difficult when some rehab periods require 4 hourly treatments/feeds for weeks on end.(Hence why a 40ft live-abroad would be most suitable).
 
     Besides all the above, most seal centre's experience a loss of 50% mortality, much of this due to the stress of confinement of these wild marine mammals. Many seals need to be drugged in order to treat them. Having rescued seals wild and free, allows for a far more conducive healing process in most circumstances. Finally existing legislation deems it a criminal offence to disturb or harass a seal, but is useless when seals haul-out on public spaces (the dying ones), and therefore the catamaran/rafts serve as added protection, as these seals are now on private property, with prevents both the public and government officials doing as they please, without my consent.
 
     I hope therefore that you are pleased that your funds have been well spent. All construction work was done by myself and one paid worker.
 
     In the coming weeks, the jetski re-launch, the seal centre, the rafts, the three pioneering baby seals, How Seal Alert-SA continues financially, our dive/camera gear and our launch vehicles..
 
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA
     


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From:
Seal alert-SA
Subject: Thank You, for making a Cape Fur Seal - Difference
Date: May 2, 2007

Dear All Cape Fur Seal Supporters,
 
Thank You, for making a Cape Fur Seal - Difference
 
        As many of you know I started rescuing and protecting seals in Hout Bay, its commercial fishing harbour (the second largest by volume in South Africa) in 1999. Over the years I have endured with these wonderful, intelligent and amazing seals some terrific sadistic cruelty, pain and death. Each in the main, caused by fishermen. In each of the seals sad passing, their loss of life, gave me renewed energy and strength to save and protect the still alive ones. Just outside Hout Bay is a small seal colony on a small awash rock. Many who see this offshore colony for the first time, see thousands of seals, and yet few realise, that a number equal to the entire colony, I have saved, helped or rescued over the years, single handled - with your support. I have experienced terrible pain, seals with their faces shot-off, stoned to death, skulls clubbed in, entangled so badly their necks bleed continuously, drowned in trawl nets, jaws completely broken. In fact, I believe that it is doubtful that there is not an injury to seals caused by man-kind that I have not personally witnessed.
 
       Lately media and others, have moved the issues from individual species to global issues, like global warming, mass overfishing, species extinction in mass. A real doomsday scenario. Even our own fisheries Minister is now talking complete collapsed fisheries within three decades. Throughout all this, I have remained single-minded, and completely focused on these Cape fur seals. Yet, in context, my work seems pointless, considering the pending global doomsday scenario.
 
      Well, I am here to tell you, that after feeding the babies their lunch time feed, I prepared my 5kg of defrosted pilchards and headed down along the pier towards the other seals undergoing various stages of in-the-wild rehabilitation. Like some of the 65 weanlings that remain after fleeing the Namibian clubbers, or some entangled ones, Mumkin the baby pup from last years awash rock breeding season, an old bull and some others. As is customary I took along my seal disentangling sickle/knife.
 
      And, there I stood on the pier. 60 defrosted pilchards ready to be feed to eagerly awaiting seal mouths and Mumkin's liquidised feed. Not a single seal in sight. None on the rafts, pier, rocks or even swimming around the harbour. This has never ever happened before. There are always a seal needing help or grateful for a helping mouthful, even coming down at 2am in the middle of the pitch black night, finds a group of seals eagerly awaiting. On noticing this, it dawned on me something else, that although there is not a black and white evidence that attitudes, particularly amongst fishermen has changed towards seals, the horrific injuries and cruelty has diminished as well over the years. More and more seldom, I am coming across a severely injured or abused seal ( in the Hout Bay area).
 
     Even now I operate from a rental free Seal Centre, whose building belongs to Oceana, one of the largest fishing companies in South Africa and where De Beers, the largest diamond producer in the world, and where upon over 70% of the seal population is now situated (and where they are still being clubbed) on their diamond restricted mining land, is engaged with Seal Alert/Seashepherd in what it considers that we are key stake-holders in their future strategic planning. 
 
     So I am here to tell you, there is hope, and change, no matter how small, does come for the better. No doubt very soon, I will be faced with massive cruelty, injury and rescue, but at least, there is tangible evidence, not by me, but as shown by the seals themselves, that our funding, support and efforts are having an effect on the minute by minute, day to day lives of the seals. Seals out the harbour, means they are surviving, wild and free, as nature intended. We are getting there, one seal at a time.
 
    So thank you, to each and every one of you, for what you have done to date, and over the years.
 
    I have some very good news coming from Paul Watson and Seashepherd soon, as well as the jetski, catamaran, centre and rafts. Pics should start following shortly as each equipment part is placed into operation.
 
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA