SealAlert-SA sasealion@wam.co.za
Thursday, March 2, 2006 11:01 AM

Dear All Seal Supporters,

Below is a comment I received recently in my Guest Book - from a South African living in Cape Town - Supporting the Culling of Seals. Naturally I am fuming mad. Whilst I hate to over-load you with long emails. Please, please just take a minute to read through, because you will see how desperate this situation is, and how unfair. This attitude, has been going along for centuries, it is wrong, it can be made right, there is simple solutions, where these seals do not need to bear the brunt of our ignorance.

“Hello ! I forwarded the petition for the seals to my South African friends. Here is the response from one of them. I am not sure about the scientific facts behind this ! Is it true that the surabondance of seal have brought in the white sharks to the RSA beaches ? I was looked on your website to see if I could find an e-mail for Francois Hugo, and double check with him that statement. Could you froward my email to him, or find someone who knows about seals to help me repond to my friend - I am afraid I don’t know well enough the seals to debate the issue with my South Sfrican friends, but it seems important to me to argue the case to educate everybody on the subject ! Thank you for caring about the animals, Gwenaelle de Bizemont, Dubai -------------------------------
Hi Gwen GREAT to hear from you!!!!!!!! ON the seal thing - YOU SENT THIS TO THE WRONG PERSON!!!! I am ALL FOR seal culling because my daughters have to swim in the sea with sharks. Why are there sharks there? The seal population ( thanks to man) has been confined to tiny islands of rocks off the coast of CPT. I have visited them so many times. It is TERRIBLE. There are too many seals and not even a spot of land left. The weaker seals and little cubs are literally pushed off land by the bigger stronger seals and now the great white sharks have come in to just feed and feed and feed on the floundering weak cubs who eventually just drown if they are not taken by sharks. Then at certain times of the year HUGE bull seals come to mate from other colonies of seals. And they attack the sharks which then go towards the beaches for food- they go after the young male seals who are scared away from the colonies of seals on these overcrowded Islands. Remember seals had almost the whole of Robbin Island until it became a ‘museum’ - they also had a lot of South Africa’s coast line up the west coast which is now developed into golf estates and luxury homes’..
WE MUST Cull the seals - we MUST cull the penguins and not leave this to the sharks who are less discriminating when it comes to seals or people! I have done a lot of research into this too. I have also been shark diving which was COMPLETELY against my beliefs until I did it. Now I see that it is not very different to ‘game viewing’ from a vehicle And we cull elephants who destroy the vegetation for the rest of the animals in the Game Parks. I think we have to. Or there would be no other animals. The problem is man. It is always man. But to see a baby seal floundering and drowning is TOO TERRIBLE!!!! What I want to lobby for is a ‘coastal game park’ like Kruger Park and like the whole of the Seychelles. This is what we need. Coastline untouched by man where colonies of seals, penguins and their predators(natural predators) can live in a balanced ecosystem. You probably hate me now. But Sorry - I cannot sign this petition because I have watched kids being attacked by sharks, I have been underwater with sharks and I have watched baby seals and other seals drowning. Shark is a wonderful passive animal. AWESOME to see. The only way we can get sharks to come close enough to photo is by dragging along behind the boat a rubber/artificial seal!!! Even bait doesn’t work. Baiting sharks to come near people doesn’t get sharks near people. It gets LOTS and LOTS of seagulls, but not sharks. A person on a surfboard is the same ‘shadow’/outline as a seal. So is a child! Chat soon! Bridg Bridg Hamilton Russell CURIO SHIP - CAPE TOWN
Dedicated to providing full service Freighting and Shipping assistance to International visitors, local customers, Hotels, B&B's, Guest houses, Shops and Art galleries, Curio and artefact Dealers.”

Ok, now read the real reality - how can a voiceless species that is suffering so much, endure much more of this!

Lets go back to the beginning. From early historical accounts from the first explorers when they arrived in the sailing ships off the Cape coast, thousands of seals swam out to their ships from the various islands and swamped their small rowing boats. Seals then had no fear of humans, and being intelligent, enquiring souls, sought the oppurtunity to interact. In no time at all, with such abundance of wildlife living on these low lying islands, who offered no resistance, man quickly found a way to kill and exploit. Then though the seal meat was un-platable even to slaves, or the fur except for the very young babies, able to be tanned, as it was too coarse. Man continued to club his way through millions of defenceless seals, exterminating one seal island after another.

Once near extinction, and no longer profitable, attention turned to seabirds and their eggs, once destroyed, he went after their bird dropping. To keep this lucerative and attain maximum profit, seals were kept from returning to these few islands, the only islands off south African coast, in order to unnaturally increase seabird numbers for their bird-droppings.

Just 50 years ago, this was exactly what was going on. The seals had lost their islands. To Cape Fur Seals, which require dry land to warm themselves after foraging in the cold Atlantic ocean, to rest, to heal, to mate, to breed, to raise their young and to moult, as they unlike "true seals" had not evolved to spend all their time at sea, in effect, they were lower down on the evolutionary chain, and are in fact, sea-lions.

Ignoring all this, commercial fishing interests as well, sort to keep them out of the Cape waters, believing their consumption of fish, could be better used in human profit. So beaten and clubbed to near extinction, now banned from islands, once their home. Even the South African Airforce was used to drop bombs on their colonies to eradicate them. Seals struggled. Even more so as commercially fishing plundered every species they preyed upon. Then conservation reared its ugly head, it sort not to restore these clear imbalances that any fool could see, instead it started counting wildlife, and placing them in groups of threatened, near threatened, or endangered. Supported by a mountain of ill informed seabird supporters, seabird conservationists attempted to restore declining seabird numbers, but once again banning every island of South Africa to seals. So seals were now being attacked by the only people, that might have offered them any hope.

Seals were allowed to have the smallest awash rocks off the South African coast, all 16 of them, provided each was less than 2 ha in size. It was hoped that by confining seals to these small rocks, it would "naturally" control their growth. Seabirds were given 990 ha of protected offshore island land, and seals, the more dominant species, was given the awash rocks of just 10 ha of protected rocks.

From near extinction, 50 years earlier, this was a "gift" to seals, as these small rocks, prevented any commercial sealing, as access was too difficult. So their numbers from near extinction recovered. As per the email above, the Seal Rock in False Bay all 2 ha of it, which in 1880 had no seals on it, slowly became a seal breeding colony. When they started the first seal population count in 1971, they found 14 000 pups being born there, making it the biggest offshore breeding seal colony in southern Africa over 4000 km, times 4 to get to the overall population 56 to 70 000 seals were living there. Divide that by 20 000 sqm, and you get close to 4 seals for every sqm. A 350 kg, a 200kg, a 70 kg and a 7kg seal, all living in one sqm. Problem was, as the rock is low lying, as soon as the gale-force winds that blow for weeks during crucial pupping time, the seas rose, with the high tides, spring tides and storm on-shore waves that swept over this rock, at times completely submerging it. As this happened the size of dry-land reduced, at best there was some hours in a day, during low tide, that the seals would be forced to live, 8 seals per sqm. Naturally the weakest and youngest would be pushed to the edge. There was also never a moment of rest, as returning or leaving seals, sort to continually command the best resting place.

New-born baby pups, who are not waterproofed nor could they swim until at least 6 weeks of age, became daily victims. Hundreds would drown in a day. This nightmare for these "protected" seals has been going on ignored for over 30-years. At the same time, fishermen were hunting great white sharks in the same bay in mass, always going to the seal colony to find their catch. But then a decade ago, thoughtful people campaigned to protect the great white shark. Slowly the shark numbers recovered.

Today there are over 200 great whites swimming continuously around this 2ha rock, filled with seals. Enterprising man, has since started eco-tourism, shark watching, where it is a highlight to watch a shark rip a baby seal to pieces. After 30 years, although a million seal pups have been born on this rock, there has been no growth. Every pupping season, up to 14 000 baby seals will either be attacked by sea-birds, eaten by sharks or wash into the sea and drown.

For seals the nightmare continues. With no more land on this rock, 14 000 babies continue to get pushed into the sea to the waiting sharks. Who through this over 100 tons of fresh seal meat, have increased their shark numbers unnaturally, feeding more and more, on this unnatural washing off of baby seals.

The problem will all this is, seals are not meant to be there on this rock, and therefore neither would the sharks. In fact, so unnatural is this all, that during seal pupping time, which all occurs mostly in December, sharks are completely absent from the colony, not a single shark is seen. So where have the sharks gone? With so many pups washing off each day, helpless victims, the direction of the gale force wind is shore-wards. So this is where the sharks head. Problem number 2, December is Christmas holidays, False Bay is the warmer bay, getting most of the Indian Ocean in it, and so it is used by many holiday makers, using the surf conditions. So sharks that are attracted after the dead seal pups floating towards shore, begin to investigate all these humans floating around. People have every right to be afraid, because as the shark population keeps increasing, the seals can provide no more pups, the rock is too small, so the sharks will become increasingly hungry, but even more so, sharks have been forced to change their hunting ability, no longer surviving on hunting in the deep, sharks are now accustomed to seeking their prey floating on the surface. Another decade, and things are going to get very ugly down in False Bay.

Culling seals is not the answer as suggested, because it has the opposite effect. Kill its young prematurely, simply ensures that you remove the burden of rearing a pup, over a 12-24 month period, thereby aiding the cow to pup again, every season, as she gets impregnated at the same time as pupping. It called forcing a "puppery farm". Secondly man has already forced this "natural" cull on seals already by forcing them onto this small rock.

So what's the answer? Are there just too many seals? Well if you take all the offshore seal colonies over 4000 km in southern Africa, and you allow them all to go back to one island, historical known as Robben (Seal) Island, just this one island, they would only occupy 10 ha of this 573 ha island or just 2%. If you allowed every seal, including the ones being forced to breed on the mainland's in the north, back to this island, the total Cape Fur Seal population would occupy just 32ha or just 6%. So I ask you, is 6% of one single island over 4000 km too many seals?

Robben(Seal) island banned to seals (Big red circle) - False Bay Rock/Biggest offshore Seal Colony in Africa (Small red circle)

But wont, the sharks now move to Robben, and begin preying on seal pups and humans? Well, no - because Robben (Seal) Island lies 12 km from shore, during pupping time, December/Summer, at this island because of its geographic location, the wind is not on-shore, but offshore. So any pups that got swept off this very large, protected World Heritage Site, would be blown out to sea - as nature intended all along.

This single act, of allowing seals to go back to their "home". Would benefit everybody, including the seals, but instead 23 species of non-indigenous mammals are allowed to roam free, and 32 species of seabird, even Penguins were introduced in 1983, and since every year, more are introduced, until this penguin colony is now the second biggest in Africa. Over 250 000 international tourists pay a high fee to visit this island each year, but not one of them is offended or feels done in, that this island called after seals, has remained extinct to seals for over 200 years and there is not a single seal to see, living in its natural state. Nor do they question or demand to know, why there are more seals living in the polluted harbour of the Cape Town Waterfront, and none at the island.

So, if you want to change this, sign the petition and pass it on, a little donation would help as well, to enable me to reach more people, and make simple, positive changes for the benefit of all.
For the Seals
Francois Hugo - Seal Alert-SA


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