The 3 'M' - Muskaflippers, the Seal Islands and a Seal Rescue a Day


Monday, January 9, 2006 8:46 AM

Dear All Seal Supporters,

When I started to rescue Cape Fur Seals back in 1999 with just the hands on my body, no knowledge and no equipment, just a burning desire to help. I faced an unbelievably impossible task, protecting and saving not just single seals, but an entire species of over 1 million seals over a distribution range of over 4000 km.
At the time, the concept of Seal Rescue did not even exist here at the tip of Africa, instead there was just mass death and suffering on a scale, most people even South Africans were not even aware existed. Since Man first encountered these millions of years old species, there has never been an attempt to "bond" and to help. Instead these amazing marine creatures were just seen as something to exploit and use, and worst of all ignored.

Thanks to your individual support, finally, in the second busiest commercial fishing harbour, a previous place of untold horror and abuse, there lies a "floating facility" of hope. 2 rafts of 4m by 2m and a 6.5 m boat. This is the only square meterage, these sick, dying, lost and starving seals have along this entire coastline, and of course, you. Without it, they would just join the forgotten 200 000 that starve to death in Namibia, or the 60 000 that get clubbed once they reach the "ripe" age of 7 months, or the more than 7000 bulls that get shot, or the more than 40 000 baby pup's that get washed off their inappropriate rocks, drown or starve to death. It is indeed a special place, where wild seals voluntary swim into to, to get the help they need, joining all the other rehabbing seals from different colonies, all with their unique aspect of suffering and pain.

Beauty Without Cruelty/Spirit of Seal Supporters and our old raft revamped after sinking.

The BWC/Spirit of Seal Supporters has undergone some additional changes. The motors were removed temporarily, to increase floatation at the stern. A removable 1-metre high net was structured around the boat to kept the pups safe. A removable rear ramp was added. The interior which in the middle can be seen a small "splash pool" has been completely waterproofed to enable the entire interior to be completely washed clean, keeping the interior hygienic and dry. This boat is now completely "seal proofed", total cost since purchase, R21 000.

This year's Seal Pupping season was focused on perfecting if this would be indeed possible the "group" rehabilitating and hand-raising of new-born baby seals, as in the wild, each pup has only one mom. Whilst over 300 000 new-born baby seals die horrifically sad along this vast coastline stretching along two country's coastlines, each and every year, and whilst I was only able due to circumstances to respond to 8 baby seal rescues, over 5000 previous Seal Rescues and over 30 000 man-hours of experience, went into operation, to save and make this "group rehab" a viable possibility. The objective of which lies not only in saving "mass groups" of individual babies over their 10 to 12 months of intensive rehabilitation, but in offering a viable solution, for this species future.

The future inwhich, lies the re-population of their current banned and historical breeding islands. With a 1000 ha of protected offshore Islands, and with seals only being allowed to bred on the most un-suitable 1%, their "group" rehab carried incredible importance. Working to a "world first" concept and forced to develop and re-write almost every aspect of their rehab, we lost 5 young babies. But, holding hope, "mumkin" now at 45 days, and originally from a small colony 250km away that is slowly becoming extinct, things slowly started to improve, two more babies rescued from the same sad colony, exactly a month later, and after 14 days, the "group" rehabilitation is starting to look like a viable possibility.

The 3 'M' MuskaFlippers - Mumkin - Max - Myrna

Dubbed the "3 'M' - Muskaflippers", Mumkin, Max and our only female baby pup ever rescued todate, Myrna, whose name I understand means "hope", have finally made it through the initial most critical stage. After thousands of Seal Rescues, by far in the majority, their cause of death under rehab and rescue, is death by stress and non-bonding. Likewise it was no different with this years baby seal pups. It is horrific to witness, this death by stress. It starts as follows, initially these baby seal "put on" a brave face, but between the 3rd and 7th day, one notices a change in behaviour, first they go quiet, then you notice a resistance to be "tube feed", some even become very aggressive, not only biting myself severely, but actually attacking the other baby seals. Then they begin to isolate themselves away from the group, within hours of this happening, their organs begin to shut down one by one, and either they pass away quietly or vigorously in most cases begin convulsing severely, eyes flicker in the head, whiskers are outstretched, and violent snapping of their jaws, head smashing into the ground, with their body's rigid and as hard as a "brick". It is horrific to witness, and there is little that can be done, the "bonding" over the past few days has not taken place, and basically, in mourning, this baby seal pup, is stressing himself or herself to death. It is as if they "refuse" to accept their new "human world" and long for their island home, even though their mom has not returned and they have been left abandoned to starve to death and get pecked and attacked by seagulls.

Mumkin helping Max to come out of his convulsions, gently.

Our very first baby pup successfully rescued, who in fact, was the first pup ever hand raised in South Africa's history, "Kidogo", who is still around, and the following year's pup, "Popeye, who recently returned from the wild, including, our latest "Mumkin", "Myrna" and now recently "Max", all went the same way. After 160 hours into their rehab, you have just "One Single Hour" to identify this condition when it starts, it can start as soon as 72 hours or 744 hours into their rehab, miss it and the pup dies, but if you can "catch it", a dose of "rescue remedy", made up of glucose, sea-salt, vitamins, anti-biotic, "seal milk" and the magic "half disprin", and a whole lot of loving and cuddling, whilst this baby seal pup is "frying" its brain, it is like witnessing a seal being condemned to death, by electrocution, 8 to 10 hours later, if you can pull him or her through, you have a changed seal pup, ready to accept you as it's mom, finally letting go of its natal wild bonds, and intensively missed bonds with it's mom. Pup takes anything up to 3 days to fully recover, and will gradually accept you and begin suckling from your body parts, ears lobes, inside of arm, chest, legs and ankles are preferred. At this point, pup has finally accepted you as his or her "saviour", and the long 10 to 12 month of rehab and teaching all the rules of survival can begin.

I have reached that point, with each of the "3 'M' - Muskaflippers", and the future of their unique genes, from their disappearing colony, lies now firmly in their flippers. "Myrna" and "Max" are still borderline, and their "bonding" to me is being hampered by in-fighting and jealousy, but like with all things in life we can only try. Mumkin has become their leader, and my shadow, he will not leave my side, and is just too happy to have somesort of body contact.

It is now 55 days into this season's baby pup rescues, 55 days of not a single full night's sleep, feeding starts at 6 am, 10 am, 2pm, 6 pm, 10 pm and 2 am, between feeds it is cleaning up, constantly mopping up the wet floor and preparing their feed for their next session. When I get the chance I sneak off, without the 3 knowing and try and get some much desired sleep. The other night at 3 am my wife, Nelda awoke saying the babies are crying, but my body would just not respond, they had to wait until 5 am. Moving them onto their "Beauty without Cruelty/Spirit of Seal Supporters boat is going to be great for them, but an increased burden and work for me, as for each feed I now have to swim or launch the jetski to bring their feed and do their feeding in a wild and free environment. These swims takes places at night, as well, day after day for the next few months to come, and I can tell you when winter approaches, it is not fun, at 43, climbing into a wet, wetsuit and swimming out into a polluted and cold harbour water, in pitch blackness, and climbing abroad a raft and boat, with 50 wild seals sleeping, to get to the pups, without getting bitten or disturbing all and sundry.

This goes on day after day, for 10 to 12 months, in sickness or in health, not a day can be missed. Our group rehab of the 3 muskaflippers has reached a difficult stage. Forced due to their declining health, I have further refined their feed, all "dairy products" have been removed, and they are now happily on a pure liquidised fish/water diet. They are all much happier, except without the cream, their fat gain is slow. Equally, without the fat they are now requiring feed every 4 hours minimum.
This is creating new set of problems, in that the smallest, the female, "Myrna" is still somehow unable to suckle, whilst desperate to bond, this is leading her into immense frustration, which causes her as she gets hungry to begin hounding and attacking her other two siblings, scattering them in all directions in fear of getting a severe painful nip. If this is not solved, in the small enclosure confines of the small BWC/Spirit of Seal Supporters boat, she will terrify the others, possibly even causing either "Mumkin" or Max's" death from stress. The other, is that, if I am not there, and the hunger pain begins, this can cause these "clueless" pups, particularly "Myrna" to go out into the wild in search of either myself or food. We would naturally lose her. The weakest, "Max", although suckling and improving, due to his very frail condition, still prefers to isolate himself and scares easily.

"Mumkin" is ready for the BWC boat and the wild, but "Myrna" and "Max", 30 days behind, are not, and therefore what to do with the group, remains a confused and unanswered equation. I am taking it day by day, until certain that we have a fully bonded, suckling and feeding group.

This brings me once again to the unenviable task of once again asking for support, awareness and some funding. Besides the continued rehab to these pups, it is the task of Seal Alert-SA to at least rescue a "Seal-a-Day" everyday for the next 356 days of 2006. This One-Man (Seal-Man) operation, to be fully operational, over the 4000 km range, rescuing seals from over 40 Seal Colonies offshore, I am needing as estimated R3000 or $500 a day to keep operational. The R3000 covers the initial rescue, and the next 3 to 10 months of that Seal's rehabilitation costs. I might add that this is 10% of what other land-based Seal Rescue Centre's around the world require, with many volunteers. I am therefore asking for 356 loyal "2006 SA Seal Supporters" be they an individual or a group, to each sponsor the Rescue and Rehab of a Seal. The requested R3000 or $500 can be divided into a monthly donation of just $40, and you or your group, will naturally be able to "name" each Seal rescued on that day, and be kept fully informed or his or her progress. I plan to send out nightly "up-dates" in the form of "mini-power point shows" to illustrate visually the day's rescue in the wild. More on this later.

"Buller" the yearling female with the broken flipper bone, is recovering well, and is now in the wild on the raft, and 31 days into her rehab, refusing to only eat "tuna" at R56/kg, she is costing me over R150/day and will to obtain her full recovery in 2 months time, cost in excess of R13 000 in feed costs alone. I have read, deep sea "game fish" like "tuna" have 1000-times more inflammation healing properties than vitamin C or E, and perhaps this is why "Buller" has this demand.

The next order of business is, Captain Paul Watson of Seashepherd International, aboard his vessel the Fowley Mowat, still down in the Antarctic fighting the Japanese Whalers, amongst Ice-bergs and frenzying seas, to Save the Whales, has offered after his campaign to come to Cape Town with his ship. This was his recent message, "Francois - once we reach South Africa, my ship and crew are available to assist you with the seals until our next campaign". This is a once in a life-time opportunity for the Seals. I would truly appreciate it on behalf of the seals, as this has never before been done, to journey with compassionate and experienced "eyes", to each of the offshore 40 Seal Colonies abroad the 50 metre vessel of Seashepherd the Fowley Mowat, and covering a range of over 4000 km, to document first hand, the extent of their suffering and plight, to record their population numbers, on each of the colonies over a period of two weeks, rescuing and freeing entangled seals where possible. During these two-weeks, and depending on the progress of the "3 'M' - Muskaflippers", they might be healthy enough and trusting enough, to accompany me on this epic journey. I therefore appeal for a "Special" once-off donation to fund the costs of the fuel for this proposed trip.

"Bait" or pilchards still remain completely scarce, but a drive along the coast to all the small "bait-shops" produced 34, 5kg box's, and so I have now cleaned out that resource.
Two bulls, in very weak condition was rescued as well, and both were relatively easy rescues and recovering well.

On our west coast, and an exclusive island, earmarked for seabirds, and inwhich MCM has pumped R3 million into a tourist observation centre, starving seals have begun attacking and eating "endangered" Gannets. Since 1988, MCM has been using this "excuse" to shoot the "offending seals", instead of addressing overfishing, things have recently turned for the whose, when the seals, have learnt to avoid getting shot in the day-time by their "seal protectors", are now instead climbing onto the island and retrieving the birds at night. This has caused the whole gannet seabird colony to move elsewhere, and with R3 Million invested, MCM has now issued permits once again to shoot offending seals. The pups from Elands Bay, and the pics shown is less than 50km away from this Lambert's Bay site.

My good friend Bart a wildlife film-maker, is in Namibia filming and poking around, and it appears Namibia is attempting to use the seals, by offerring hunters to shoot seals with "bow and arrow", however it is understood, that this further attempt at cruel exploitation, is a failure, because the seals although shot many times, don't die.
I plan to head to Namibia as soon as the pups are more on their feet.

Until my next update, leaving you covered, in baby seal bites from head to toe, black and blue, thinking of you all everyday, "flipper wave" for now. For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA
PS - I will get onto the Public Protector regarding why the Minister has not replied to our "campaign to have guns banned in fishing" and used to kill seals, replied to yet, as has been promised last year.