Tuesday, February 14, 2006 7:50 PM

Subject: Myrna and Max, Decision Taken, thanks to a little help from you and nature

Dear Seal Supporters and Seal Guardians,

Firstly thank you for all your valued and thought provoking comments, including your many votes of confidence. It appears we are all on roughly the same thought and solution. More on our decision later in this email.

The past 24-hours, has been an interesting day. The large bull with fish hook struck either in his throat or stomach, has left the raft and has not been seen the whole day, I am unsure whether this is good or bad, at this stage.

a similar hook removed from another seal - note the very large size. This is what is inside him.

This morning I received a frantic call about two seals stuck for 2 days in a Dry Dock in Cape Town Harbour, without food. There are two commercial dry-docks, the first I was informed there was also two seals, a week ago but not now. On approaching the second dry-dock, I came upon a rescue of two bulls already in progress.

This dry-dock was really very, very deep. Already netted this bull must be close to 250 kg

The only way to the surface, hoist him via a crane

terrified and afraid, this bull begins his ride to freedom


Finally back at sea level, some difficult moments in freeing him from the net and in he plunged to freedom

It was most pleasing to come upon a rescue already in progress, with so many people responding to his plight. For once, I could just witness. Previously, not long ago, these bulls which commonly get trapped in these massive dry-docks, were simply shot. But, as people in recent times are taking a more active interest in this species, his life and that of his mate was spared. All in all, there is hope, provided we choose to involve ourselves in their future, otherwise they will just end their life as another forgotten un-recorded dead seal.

This is the whole objective of these updates, to ensure that there is a group that cares, that no longer will allow these seals to become ignored, forgotten, nameless victims.

This morning after the pups feed. Mumkin and I did our morning swim. I felt sorry for him, for he yearned for me to take him on a "proper foraging swim", but unfortunately as a "seal-man" all I could do was swim up and down with him, after taking him back to the boat, I exited the water. On the pier, on the other side, the sea-side, I was witness to between 50 and 100 dusky striped dolphins, come within an arm-length of the rocks/pier, each with their own baby calf. Swimming up and down, I watched in amazement, how each calf mimicked exactly the movement of its mom. Every single dolphin in the group had a calf, it was like it was "mother's day out with their calf's". It was truly a magnificent sight. On the one-side I was "playing mommy" with Mumkin, whilst on the other side of the pier wall, dolphins were "playing mommy" with their calf's. This naturally made me feel even worse for Mumkin, how unfair it is that he had to lose his mom, and how much she would be teaching him now.

Then when I returned to the raft later, the weak little yearling, that was tube-fed, caught and released everyday for 5 days, until he refused to allow me to catch him further disappeared two evenings ago, with a group of foraging seals. He was back, not only back, but sitting right in the middle of the "Spirit of Seal Supporters - BWC" boat, amongst the pups. No longer fearful of me, clearly in his frail condition, he needed help, and he had made his choice, to receive my help.

So we are going to help him, we therefore need a name and a group. It is a little male I think, who no doubt was born last year. Can Earle or Menkit, co-ordinate this second group, should they wish to adopt/sponsor a guardianship of this little chap fighting for his life.

The yearling awaiting his capture and feed, looking very frail and weak

Now onto Max and Myrna. See pic below, Mumkin suckles sea-water out of his bowl after his tube-feed. Max prefers to suckle directly from the pool and then onto his flipper. Myrna, prefers to "play" suckling on Buller, the now doing well yearling rescued some time back.

Here is the plan, over the past few weeks I have been stretching their stomach's, first it was 250 ml at a time, then 500ml, and then 750 ml, given 4 to 5 times a day. For a day, they all appeared to be happy with a total feed in volume of about 1500 to 2000 ml. So from today, I pushed them to 1000 ml and they accepted, in one feed. The plan is now to only feed them twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, getting 2000 ml or 14 pilchards in total a day, just over 1 kg of fish/day. Tonight, the most difficult one, Myrna, initially when I returned for their evening feed, she kept her distance, but after two hours, as I was packing up to leave, she made her way into the boat, and allowed me to hold her whilst I tube-fed her.

So thanks to the little yearling, and all your advices, nature has intervened and showed me to be patient. So I will not try and force either Max or Myrna, I will let them approach me in the feeding area, before holding them down for their tube feeding. With only two feeds, but sufficient volume, in a day, the length in-between should be sufficient for a working relationship to develop, and lets hope our "bonds" develop stronger, without so many frequent catching/feeding session. I will keep you all updated.

Mumkin with head in his bowl, Max with his flipper and Myrna play suckling on Buller

Our latest rescuee, with Myrna already "test" suckling

Thank you all for the support and comments, if any of the guardians disagree, please let me know. In a final comment, whilst Mumkin will suckle seawater out of his bowl he will not suckle the liquidized fish/water. Tubing is used because, it is easy to gauge the correct quantity of feed being given throughout the next 12 months, and I have found in later months, that it prevents them becoming imprinted into getting hand fed by whole fish. In otherwords they go directly from tubing, to hunting their own fish, becoming less and less dependent of tube feeding.

Previously, likewise years back I used to be in contact with various well known, established Seal Rescue "centre's", I disagree with their methodology, as I cannot see how it is humane, effective or successful, confining a seal or a pup, fattening him or her up, and then just releasing him or her. They need to learn how to survive in the wild, and this can only come from being in the wild.

For the Seals
Francois Hugo - Seal Alert-SA


Monday 13 February 2006 6:50 PM

Dear Guardians of Mumkin, Max and Myrna;

As the rehabilitation of new-born baby seal pup's has never been attempted in the wild, we are all in fact writing "the book".
One of the objectives for these seals future, is our 2006 program to develop a "group rehab", using one donor parent (myself). Its purpose would be, once government allows seals to be returned to their indigenous and historic offshore islands, that group rehabilitation will present the only viable way of re-introducing these seals back to their islands.

Mumkin, now at day 82, bonded with me immediately. This is common where the "1st rescued" accepts me more readily as his adopted parent.
As pupping cow seals only have one pup, which can remain with its mother for up to 2 years, prior to weaning itself off, the task of a single parent/multiple pup rearing, is fought even using the "wildlife" themselves hand-book, with uncertainties.

Bonding is illustrated by the pup adopting your scent and call. He or she, will suckle from your body parts readily, and in fact demands to have frequent contact with you.
Unbonded pups respond to none of these, display a general acceptance, but with no physical picking up or handling permitted, or they respond by biting and struggling to get away.

We are past the first hurdle, stabilizing their diet to match their requirements, pups are so too say healthy.

Both Max and Myrna, have remained, and it is now day 53 for them both, unbonded, and 24 days on the boat in the wild.
There is little hope, that this will change, in fact, as they begin to swim more frequently, they will become increasingly more difficult to "control" and administer frequent feeding.
Whilst Max is 50/50 accepting being caught, he still resists being tube-fed. Over the past few days, Myrna has become increasingly difficult to "catch" in order to feed.

These pups only wean themselves at the earliest at about 8 months, so there is no question, whether they could survive on their own in the wild, they can't, they will starve to death slowly.
Wild seal behaviour is such, that as they weaken from loss of feed, they isolate themselves even further, even from their own species, until they become so weak they go off and die.

To put this all into context. Whilst there are over a million seals around our coastline, with over 200 000 pups being born, with hundreds of thousands dying every year, in 2006, the 21st century, the SA Government has still not seen fit to address Seal Rescue officially.
In fact, it was I who proposed the very "concept" in 1999, and have since campaigned for several years, only to see, government develop a draft document, in which they now accept Seal Rescue, but naturally will not fund it.
As this process is still in draft form since 2004, authorities are not able to issue permits for Seal Rescue. Bottom-line, there is just nobody experienced in South Africa in this field.
Regardless whether or not permits were issued, I am of the opinion, a land based site, or enclosure would be inappropriate, over the long term of a pups rehabilitation.
Pups need to learn the skills of survival, and this can only come from complete access to their environment.
In addition, I am further of the opinion, that as these seals have evolved over millions of years, they have evolved their right to freedom, our task should therefore be to assist not constrain or confine. We need to work within "their world" if we are to ensure positive meaningful assistance to them as a species.

Problem number two. Our duplication of the cow's milk with a kind Professors help, unfortunately did not work, so our quantity and frequency of feed, is now all complete guess work.

Last year, we had 4 pups, abandon their rehab, and swim off into the wild never to be seen again.
Each one had not bonded. Additionally we have found by continuously restraining or confining the seal, they become even more unmanageable, weaken and die.
The success of rehab is entirely dependent upon, the "bonding factor", I have perfected this with one on one bonding, but a group represents a whole different set of problems.
As we stand right now, Mumkin is holding the group together.
Max and Myrna take their lead from him, but unfortunately although he tolerates their interaction/partial bonding with me, he does not allow it to progress.
Max and Myrna read this, and it hampers development. There are some positive signs, Max is suckling his own flipper, and Myrna is attempting to suckle on Mumkin, although he is not happy about it.

Bottom-line, unless I am wrong, Max and Myrna need to bond properly with me, before they get much older. Once they are actively swimming, catching and feeding them, will become impossible unless there is acceptance from them.

I have the following options open to me, and request your consideration, as their guardians, as to what you feel as a group, is best for them;
1. Continue attempting to feed Max and Myrna on set time schedules to ensure the correct quantity of feed is given. This will prevent natural bonding, with possible future problems down the road.
2. Harness the fact, that they are not yet free swimming actively, and only feed, when they physically become very hungry and actually approach me, with minimal resistance to tube feeding and capture, as my guide,if this happens at all, and they don't just swim away, after weakening.
3. Reduce their feed by 50%, and hope it will encourage "bonding", or in the very least an acceptance of coming to get feed, prior to them getting older and more free swimming.
Each has its own set of problems, please think these over carefully, as our decision, could mean the difference between life and death for each of these pups.
Feed is the key, but it is not the only key. Obtaining a separate volunteer for each pup is not possible, as it will require that person to administer 5 feeds a day, to dress into a wetsuit and to do so everyday for the next 10 months.

If you prefer to not be placed in this position let me know, but I sincerely think this is a case of more heads than one, make better choices.
PS - All other Seal Supporters please feel free to comment or advise, as this is a "whole group" effort.

For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA