Subject: There is an Old Saying - In the Case of Cape Fur Seals it can never be truer
Date: December 5, 2007
Dear All Cape Fur Seal Supporters,
Firstly, a huge thank you (were it not for your generosity and kindness I dont know what I would have done all these years) to Steve, Gin, Fran, Lara, Berrick, Les, Marchig Trust, Anastasya, Sue, Nikki, Judy, Colette and Heidi for their offers of financial help and kind words. Many have written to offer help or try arrange volunteers, and as such I think I should explain in more detail the difficulty of the task at hand.
There Is An
"Give A Starving Person a Fish and you Feed Him for a Day -
Teach Him How to Fish and you Feed Him for a Life-Time"
Two fleeing refugee pups rescued take comfort in each others flippers
In the case with these fleeing seal refugees from the Namibian Killing fields, this saying can never be truer. Few people truly understand the carnage that the act of seal clubbing in a wild colony causes to almost the entire seal species. For these seal pups born in December on a colony, are dependent upon that colony (like it is their own little country) for that survival. Like you and I, if we were to be forcibly displaced from our country, we too would have no employment or means to suddenly support ourselves in another foreign country. The same applies to these Namibian seals. As they nurse and grow for up to 3 years, with a year being the least. They learn to progress from the colony into the surrounding world, first foraging nearby and later a maximum of 200 km from the colony. In these carefully developed learning steps they learn where and how to hunt, and if the environment can support them - survive. It is simply not a case of putting a seal in the sea and he will go out and find food. It just does not work that way. Clubbing 75% of the seal species, daily for half a year, forces even the most bonded to the colony, to separate from nursing cow and flee. They are in fact, refugees fleeing from a war zone.
With over 120 000 pups involved on a clubbing quota of 80 000 plus, most will either be clubbed to death or be separated and starve to death on the colony. But - thousands escape and flee for all they are worth. Thousands of these 7 month old baby seals begin the journey south. Their chances are indeed slim. Most only know how to suckle and have an interest in exploring things that move in the sea. Very few have learnt to bite or swallow something large down their throat. It is unknown how many thousands are actually involved, as it has never been scientifically documented or even admitted, nor will it ever be researched. But, within two months of the start of sealing season, this mass exodus begins, year after year, decade after decade. It is the part of "sustainable use of wildlife" and sealing, nobody wants to talk about.
Being based in Hout Bay, near the tip of Africa, I am basically situated at the end of a very long swim for these baby seals starving to death as they make the 1600 km journey south. These pups move singularly, trying to hunt at night and then hauling out at first light to warm up and rest. 300 km out of Cape Town the coastline is barren, not inhabited by humans and desert. Coming ashore here after each night's forage goes by undetected, it is unknown how many thousands starve to death or succumb to the cold before they reach the public beaches nearer Cape Town.
On the right hand raft cows abort 5 pups in last week - Omega just released, joins the weanlings from Namibia. His size almost twice theirs of the same age
Why do they flee south, for no reason, except they have no
local hunting ground (it was chased out of them), and
simply keep moving and moving until dead or they find a
source of survival. If you feed one of these seal pups one
meal, they just remain, tied to this location. Hence their
continued journey south, as most do not find food.
It is at this point, within 300km of Cape Town, that the public walking their dogs begins to find tiny starving seal pups curled up on the beach, which continues daily from October until December, where by this point, all would have either survived or died. Most of the public encountering these seal pups assume its normal and that the starving pup is just resting. A few that do realise, soon open their eyes, and find seal pups daily on their respective beaches. A healthy pup's coat is an oily grey, these malnutrition pups are clearly identifiable by their much lighter underbelly and pathetic bone-thin condition. They are completely helpless with no chance of surival. They are thousands in the process of dying.
Our latest awash rock baby pup and some weanlings recently released nw being treated in the wild
I dont know how many that have fled Namibia reach to within
300 km of Cape Town. On the calls I personally receive,
bearing in mind my number is not listed or advertised, the
number each year, must involved a few thousand.
The difficulty encountered in seal rescue of these refugee pups is monumental. The public is not able to assist besides reporting. Firstly in that if the seal is approached without experience it will either defend itself and they have a nasty razor sharp teeth bite or will simply flee back to the water to haul-out somewhere further down the coast. This makes responding difficult, for if you get a call-out, drop everything you are doing (the seals already in your care) and you leave immediately, it will still take over an hour to reach the location. Bearing in mind one can get 5 calls for seals in a single day in various directions all about the same time.With the pup either fleeing into the sea from further harassment or alternatively if too weak, go into convulsion from perceived threat and die before I can get there. Often hordes of beach-goers will crowd around this wild dying pup and the resultant infringement leading to stress, organ failure and death. More than 50% of the pups captured will die from the stress of this ordeal on the journey back to the centre if not done correctly. You are in fact dealing with a seal close to collapsed organ failure, so weak are these seals, that many leave to try hunting one more night, and simply die as they swim, from the cold. I have witnessed this many times, the last just last night.
In addition, behavioural wise, these pups are not programmed to eat or hunt during day-light hours, and so dont respond to tossed fish nearby in most cases, yet at sunset would respond. But at night-time few calls come in.
The next issue, becomes facilitates, our current two pool centre could accommodate a maximum of 20 seals. Personally I think I have received over 300 calls reporting stranded seal pups in the last 60 days. The calls just do not stop coming in. The greater the public awareness, the greater the reported sightings. I would estimate a number of between 250 -500 seal pups get reported on by the public, but there are many stretches of coastline inaccessible where these pups would haul-out as well. The difficulty is further compounded in identifying them, as they are light grey in colour (from malnutrition) and therefore are well camouflaged in the rocks.
the daily tube-feeding in the centre and in the wild
It is all very well for the thousands of public walking the
beaches to report dying seals - but, who carries the cost
and burden of their rescue? The Namibian or South African
governments refuse to, as does the average public, even the
public reporting the dying seal? Basically, South Africa
and Namibia expects Seal Alert-SA to do the work and fund
If one wanted to do Seal Rescue, just for these fleeing pups from Namibia over this two/three month period, excluding all the other year round rescues. Lets assume the rescue involves taking in 500 pups. One would need to accumulate the following fish supplies. Each seal pup will consume 24 pilchards twice a day minimum or 48 per day or over 4kg. If rehabbed in the centre, most will not be able to eat whole fish, and if forced, will convolt and die from the stress of forced handling and being force feed 24-48 individual fish. If tube-fed, the heads and tails, would have to be cut-off over 750 000 individual fish each month, before liquidising. Rehab could take anything from 3 - 12 months. Over 12 000 boxes of 5kg bait/pilchards would need to be purchased, each month or about R400 000 in fish cost purchases a month. For the rehab, a budget of R1.2 million to R4.6 million.
When I started a 5kg box of pilchards was less than R10, now even scarcer its R34, and at most times there is simply no stock to purchase.
So according to the Namibian government, Albert Brink and his two seal-clubbing partners, seal clubbing must stay because it creates jobs and R5 million in clubbing 80 000 pups, but for this, these same people cause people like ourselves to try and find R5 million simply to help and save 500 seal pups, of their trouble causing misery.
Then there is an additional problem, as most of these pups are still suckling, they accept the tube-feeding well, and quickly learn this is their sole source of survival. As our work with baby seal pups has shown, they even stay on the tube in the wild for up to 2 years. Even other seals eating (the dead or defrosted fish) does nothing to change this behaviour. The only thing that changes their behaviour, is when recovered, their natural ability to explore, and then chase moving objects, turns into biting and eventually eating. But, it is a process that takes months, and it is an environment that a seal centre cannot duplicate or offer.
Fattening up a starving seal and them tossing her or him back into the sea, completely ignores the understanding that these seals need to first re-learn their new hunting grounds and find a suitable colony nearby. Once they do this, they then naturally return to the wild
This is why I have urgently appealed for funding to open up the centre to the sea. The seals must never be captive, they must always be able to go directly into the sea. Yet, even this is not without its problems, as by having an open facility, other larger seals, some even healthy, start to compete with the ones you are trying to save. Although I have experienced a natural balance develops and things do not get completely out of hand, but either way it is a very difficult task.
Omega our baby pup now released, rehabbed in the centre the past 12 months
The baby seal pups that start washing off their awash rock
colonies, the following month (December), are a whole
different ball game, with up to 40 000 in the Cape either
drowning or washing ashore, although the alive ones appear
to reflect similar numbers as the weanling pups >from
So how does one person possibly cope with a sudden influx of 1000 seals, where everybody phoning you for help but nobody is funding you? Which seals do you save and which do you ignore?
The problem, as with all things is funding, and with regard to rescue, I have experienced that unless you campaign continuously for funding on a full-time basis, you have not got a hope in hell. On this subject, how does one compete with the large organizations appealing for funding for their various campaigns, when they have no rescue or rehab costs and raise millions and millions of dollars for campaigns just to raise awareness of certain issues. They have cleverly dubbed "Save a Seal" into what is actually just an awareness campaign to stop clubbing. The public appears to buy-into this type of mass media, and give millions and millions for campaigns that do not actual save a single species from physically dying. To even attempt to compete, one would have to stop rescue and campaign full-time, but then who will physically save the seals?
Of all the big ngo's only Seashepherd, Marchig Trust, Beauty Without Cruelty and Winscome Kindness Trust have ever helped.
The final problem, is that there is just insufficient fish out there. In Namibia quotas from dropped from 1.5 million to zero, South Africa is experiencing similar situations from overfishing. Its only going to get worse and worse.
In the above context, the only solution, is to not give-up, and in the very least give these fleeing refugee seal pups a safe place to haul-out in their hour of need, perhaps a meal or two, and the support on their terms to keep trying. Seal Rescue in the full-term sense would have to stop, focus would shift to disentanglement and if possible teaching them the hard-way to learn to eat whole fish and hunt in their new area.
This would be their only chance in a mass rescue scenario.
The above is the lower pier I would like walled and a ramp or steps into the sea. This will provide safe haul-out for 100 plus.
Hence why I appeal desperately for the outside pier to be
walled off, a ramp into the sea and a roller-door >from
the centre onto the pier. As a one-man operation this would
offer some solution to the seals fleeing the carnage in
Namibia, and at the end of the day, hope is everything.
Remembering as well, there are thousands more dying of starvation at the various colonies. The above fleeing pups who strand on the beaches are not from these local colonies. In the local context seals born on colonies, who are unable to find food simply remain around the colony until they die. Its a nightmare of never ending proportions. In each case man-kind's greed has a hand in these seals suffering.
It is one of the worst things to witness, watching a young terrified pup struggling to survive, desperate for just one meal, trying every night, hoping he or she will get lucky and find something to eat. Having eaten nothing for days or weeks. The worst is seeing them die or find them floating dead near the spot where they last hauled out. All it initially takes is a single meal and handful of fish, but when added to the thousands, it becomes a financial impossibility for one person unless, each and everyone of us tries to help. Then maybe then, there would be more hope.
I can tell you it is not a good situation to bear witness to this, it is even worse when you get to rub your hands over their furry life and the instant response you receive.
Starving weanling being fed whilst Mumkin now 2 years old looks on
Therefore I ask that we all consider the above. I have
committed my life and full-time to help them and I put
whatever spare thousands I have each month in saving their
precious lives. We urgently need like minded people to do
the same. Please do not ask me to go on the fund-raising
campaign trail, my place is with the seals, but I cannot do
it alone and I have absolutely no time to do both, rescue
and fund-raise. I have zero time to go out and appeal for
funds or handle admin, because that time will cost a seal
Therefore please help raise funding if you can, otherwise I completely understand.
My banking details once again below.
Seal Alert-SA Postal Address. SEAL ALERT-SA, BOX 221, POSTNET, HOUT BAY, 7872, SOUTH AFRICA
HEREWITH IS FURTHER DETAILS FOR BANK TRANSFERS:
ZAR is South AfricanRand
More information to be able to send the money via internet:
SEAL ALERT-SA ACC : 911 2201 321
BRANCH CODE : 632 005
SWIFT CODE : ABSAZAJJ
BANK : ABSA
SA NAT.CLEARING CODE
BIC: (SWIFT-CODE) ABSAZAJJ
Bank name : ABSA
Address : DELPHI ARCH OFFICE PARK, RAATS DRIVE, TABLE VIEW
City/code : TABLE VIEW, 7439
Country : South Africa
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA