Lest We Plead Ignorance


This was in 2001. Francois.


A Tragic Account of a South African Injured Fur Seal
by Seal Whisperer

In memory of SAM our South African Fur Seal

Lest We Plead Ignorance

This account begins in December of the new millennium, on a cold wind swept offshore Seal Island rookery, on the wild coast of South Africa.
Our female fur seal 'Sam' by January 2001, had produced a healthy pup as well as being recently impregnated, 'the seed' of the next generation, for now, lay dormant within her.
'Sam' was lucky this year with her pup, almost every other pup born from the Cape to Namibia, died slow and painful deaths from abandonment and starvation.
By April, that little seed awoke and started to grow. By August 'Sam' was teaching her newborn pup the rules of survival and the seed had turned into a tiny little seal foetus, deep inside her womb, they were in all probability, all out hunting together in the mid-water zone, an area targeted by big commercial fishing interests.
Suddenly 'Sam' is caught by her competitor, in the prop wash of a large fishing trawler and thrown against the swirling one-metre high brass propeller blades.
'Sam' survives, but her injuries are extensive, the prop sliced her through her shoulder, and again slicing her stomach and again slicing her hind flipper to the bone, finally striking her left flipper cutting it in half, 3 of her index flipper bones protruding and completely cut through.

Over the next 10 days 'Sam' battled increasing odds of survival, trying to defend and feed her family, torn to pieces, weak, infection growing and with only one effectively working flipper, she was losing herself, her family and her control.

In desperation she had to make up her mind, and turned to the nearest foreboding land and to man, abandoning in the process her unweaned pup, without her protection, to fend so premature for himself.
'Sam' arrived exhausted and very weak on Thursday 02 August 2001, on the rocks at a place called Bakoven.

She was afraid, no familiar smells or sounds, she knew she was in dangerous territory. 'Sam' dragged her torn body high above the high tide mark, away from the savage pounding waves and lay down to die.
On Friday, the nature loving residents alerted the authorities and the local welfare organizations, trusting that they would be equipped to help her.
They came, only to make an incorrect assessment that 'Sam' had been bitten by a shark and offered to humanely shoot her, they left, leaving her to fend off barking dogs and ignorant well meaning members of the public.
The residents objected, and decided to try and find the 'seal whisperer' instead.
On Saturday, some residents attempted to help her like you call a doggy, even attempts to throw fish at her failed.
'Sam' continued to defend her broken self throughout the day and night and refused to allow anyone nearby.
On Sunday morning, the 3rd day after 'Sam' had beached, a desperate resident from Bakoven arrived in Hout Bay looking for me, and I had also just received a call, and was immediately on my way.
I personally respond to over 100 such calls a year, many thousands more go unheard.
I found 'Sam' broken in spirit and in body, her ordeal clearly written all over her. She was near to death, skin and bones, yet still alive.
To assist her, I would have to subject myself to criminal arrest, it being illegal to capture, disturb, transport or feed her, the penalty 2 years in prison, this is South African law.
With the ever present threat of arrest, as the authorities and I after 3 years are not exactly friends, 'Sam' was immediately picked up and taken by car to my boat and jetty, in Hout Bay Harbour.
Here she found a human created private seal world, where other injured seals like herself, were busy with their own stages of rehabilitation, some were playing, some were fighting for jetty space others were just resting.

This privately created 'seal world' is illegal, it is prevented from being recognized, no funding of any sort is allowed.
It operates and stands alone against all opposition to fur seals, it is a place of love and war and a little hope. It is a place of 'Seal Whispering'.
If you would like this to continue to grow, please write to our Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and voice your comments fax +27 -21 4653216 email via mwillemse@deat.gov.za
MCM Legal Representative : Marius Diemont - mdiemont@iafrica.com

Immediately a private citizen's initiative swung into place, that stretched around the globe within minutes, lovers of seals, united in a common cause, without payment to save this seal's life.
Vets were called and orthopedic surgeons consulted to assess her ripped apart flipper.
South Africa is a country, which has forbidden the rescue of its seals, a country that has no qualified marine mammal rehabilitation experts and of course, no seal rescue facility.
A country steeped in commercial hatred of our seals, supported in the main by our authorities. A country that disallows its citizens the right to protect the welfare of our seals.

'Sam' throughout all of this responded well to her new surroundings, placed in a floating inflatable rubber boat, she felt safe, secure and for the first time in a very long time a little hope.
She decided to voluntarily stay, she even responded effectionately to the occasional whisker rub and neck massage.
Her gaping wounds had by now become severely infected, abscesses had started to track deep inside her body.
She desperately needed fluids, food and medication. Doctors, Organizations and private citizens throughout the world responded, via email with advice, treatment and drug prescriptions.
Arrangements were being made to fly in an expert. Time being our worst enemy.

After 48 hours, at her new home, I had been unable to hydrate her or get any food into her.
'Sam' being too afraid, mistrustful and weak to accept my loving help.
Lacking of training, experience and expertise had prevented me from even finding a vein in which to place a glucose lifesaving drip, nor the irresponsibleness of even deducing that she might be carrying a pup, all thoughts unfortunately directed at saving her.
Three times a day she would drag her weak body off the boat, and undertake a hazardous ten minutes swim, amongst and beneath the commercial churning motors, of returning fishing trawlers that had days earlier destroyed herself and her family.
Each time after her swim, she would somehow relocate the exact spot where her new home was and would haul-out on the rocks in front of the inflatable boat, due to it being to high, to drag herself into.
Each time I would collect her and place her back in the boat, where 'Sam' would fall into a deep trusting sleep.

On the third day, 'Sam' and I had established a bond of trust, by now she would allow me to gently pry open her jaws and slowly insert a whole pilchard fish onto the back of her tongue, whereby if done right, she would swallow it.
By the end of the day she had consumed 1.5kg of fish, received about a litre of water and glucose, and her antibiotics treatments appeared to be improving her wounds.
'Sam' even decided to enjoyed a 40-minute swim, interacting in the water with the other previously injured seals.
Things appeared to be looking up. However something in the back of my mind was troubling me for the past 3 days, something about her behaviour, I had somehow convinced myself it was just her 'femaleness'.
At around 03.00 in the morning it struck me, 'Sam' is pregnant, she is carrying a pup. I felt terrible, so many thoughts raced through my mind, she had been repeatedly trying to tell me I just wasn't listening, more thoughts raced, had I injured her whilst lifting her so many times into the boat, did I injure her pup when I rescued her, Is this why she would not let me touch her stomach, was the antibiotics harmful to her pup.

By early morning on the 4th day I felt relieved, everything it appeared was correct, we were on track to effective rehabilitation.
Her ripped apart flipper and abscesses still weighed heavily whether she would ever to be able to return to the wild and survive.
However, 'Sam' when awakened by me, flushing out and treating her wounds, was not keen to eat, I was unable even to administer the antibiotics through the fish.
Soon she climbed into the water, I followed, this and that way around the dangerous harbour she swam.
After 40 minutes, I could see she was growing weak, she was again starting to shiver.
She was about to leave the harbour entrance and head out into the open sea, I had to stop her, I lent over the side of the boat, riding alongside, I grabbed her neck and hauled her weak body abroad.
On the ride back to the jetty, 'Sam' appeared more alert, rubbing herself, sitting up right for the 1st time.
Back at the jetty, 'Sam' appeared uncomfortable, after 2 hours, I noticed some slight trail of blood coming from inside of her, soon I saw the embryo sack.
The vet was hurriedly called, by now, 'Sam' was pushing and heaving, in her very weakened state, she had tossed and fallen further ripping open her broken flipper and was clearly attempting to abort her pup in great pain.
Our hearts rang out for her pain and her grief.
We felt helpless, this was all happening so fast.
The vet after examining her, felt that he would attempt to help her induce contractions, his hand being too big to extract the pup.
My wife with her tiny hands, gave it a go, she succeeded, and gently removed the 4-month-old foots, this little guy, cute flippers and all was unfortunately dead.
In hindsight I believe it is here where I crossed the line, 'Sam' had been attempting to work with me, guiding her own rehabilitation, mine should have been to assist her on her terms, I crossed the line and I should not have, I disrespected our new found bond.

'Sam' by now was very weak from her recent ordeal, her newborn foetus was placed beside her to aid her in her hour of grief, she never recovered, for 3 long hours 'Sam' bravely fought on, until her breathing ceased and we watched her little heart slowly fade away and stop.
'Sam' with her newborn dead pup was no more, her spirit had gone.

It was decided to place 'Sam' and her new born dead little foetus, with tiny flippers, little whiskers and glowing black eyes, side by side, together within a cotton sack, a rock was inserted for ballast.
I decided against a post mortem, not because it isn't right, but because it was apt.
We had failed our fur seals once again.
Slowly 'Sam' and her newborn was driven out to sea, towards a nearby seal colony, where prayers were said, regrets, apologies and good-byes.

Her lifeless body and that of her pup, slipping for one last time beneath the waves, towards their final resting-place together as one.
Were we ignorant yes, will we continue to use this excuse into the next millennium, time will tell?

If, you would like me to do something about this clear neglect of these seals, please write to me. With sufficient public worldwide support, we together can make a huge difference.

For the Seals
Francois Hugo - Seal Alert SA

My thanks to
to Sherryn and Leeann of wildlife Action Group, Dr James Barnett UK, Animal Liberation Website, Nurse lianie, Dr Dion Woodborne, Dr Stevenson, Dr Brandon Drite, Dr Herbert Henrich and Andrew Christie of Seashepherd International, Advocate Gary Pienaar, Dr Tertius Gous, Ted Van Der Meulen, Kathy, Elrieda of Wildlifenet, my wife Nelda, and the all people around the world who responded to our plea for help.

People to write to
The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism : Mr Martinus Van Schalkwyk (Personal assistant) mwillemse@deat.gov.za
Minister of Safety and Security : bloemb@saps.org.za ; peternk@saps.org.za
Public Protectors Office : Advocate Gary Pienaar : garyp@pprotect.org
or maggpie@mweb.co.za
MCM Legal Representative : Marius Diemont - mdiemont@iafrica.com
Media : Mnet Carte Blanche - contact@carteblanche.co.za ;
Editor of ETV NEWS - Andy.Duffy@etv.co.za ;
Reporter of the Weekend Argus - Helenb@incape.co.za ;
Letters Editor of the Weekend Argus - wealet@ctn.independent.co.za ;
Cape Times - ctletters@ctn.independent.co.za ;
Mail & Guardian - Fiona Mc Cloud - fionm@mg.co.za ; truth@sabc.co.za ;
50/50 wildlife program - vanderwaltdf@sabc.co.za ;
Argus - John Yeld - jyeld@ctn.independent.co.za

Reaction 6 August 2005

this happened in 2001. Sam was a hard case, because when seals strand, they have already given up, otherwise they would just go back to their island colony if half injured or sick.
Her wounds were terrible, her left propulsion flipper was cut in half by 3/4, her shoulder was deeply cut, her stomach from shoulder to hind quarters was deeply slashed 3 times, and her rear flippers was equally badly cut.
By her weight loss and malnutrition, she must have tried to keep her whole family together in the sea for at least two weeks, in the freezing Cape seas.

This is what seals in particularly have taught me.
I have learnt after more than 5000 wild seal rescues, that medication and hard drugs are the last alternative, preferable to never use them.
Never change a wild animals habitat, never capture or confine, and definitely never cage.
Only feed (forced or offered), offer protection and a safe place to rest and heal.
Do not try to mix healthy with sick, it does more damage to a healing patient.
Do not rehydrate with liquids or drips.
If it needs to eat, it will let you force feed, if it does not, it wont.
Getting them to eat their food in its natural whole state is a major victory in recovery.
Self eating is the key to relationship rehab.
Digestion is in seals 4 hours, ignore this at your mistake, seal will go and disappear to look for food and never come back.
Never accept all food is good, let the animal tell you and also use the healthy or recovered ones to confirm, very important.
I have saved seals lives just by swapping one fish species for another.
Any reduction over 50% body weight, will require physical body simulation, massaging organs and blood flow.
Never have fear of a wild animal, because for him to have let you close, he has accepted you.
Initially talking helps little, stronger messages are sent through correct duplication of existing own rubbing techniques.
Never predefine behaviour, do everything in deep friendship, as instinct and behaviour will never change.
Work with what they know in their environment.
Never play with temperature, blankets, heaters or in-doors.
Never supplement seawater with fresh water.
First feed in rescue is the most important, it should be, as much as possible, 2kg fish to 10kg seal, 10kg fish to 200 kg seal.
Night and day serves different purposes.
In the wild, never do anything to break the bond.
Never transport, until bonded and hours into 1st feed. 2nd feed, is another key.

I could go on and on, but hopefully some of the above will help other animals.

Sam, allowed me to insert fish, which she voluntarily swallowed on the 3rd day.
Wild seals will not leave, there is no "let them go", they can go anytime, and do, my mistake with SAM, is that when she swam off out of the harbour to abort on her own I stopped her, because at the time I did not know she was carrying.
This was not so wrong, because she then decided to abort on the boat, but where I was wrong, is that we forced labour on her with medication, this is what actually killed her.
Had I let her abort on her own, regardless of her pain, she would have recovered and survived.

To give you another example, this 8-month pup we have, if I had captured her and brought her home for treatment, the stress of removing from her environment would have killed her.
I first had to get what food I could into her for 7-days in the wild, before I could subject her to unnatural stress, for 7-days after this, she has lay in a semi-coma, at my home, but now she is slowly recovering, and will soon be back in the water within days, where rehab will continue for at least 3-months.

This most important unresearched subject, in seals, unnatural stress is their number one and biggest killer.

Besides the lessons mentioned that I learnt from SAM.
SAM become also my turning point, to work alone, one on one, and to make all the judgement calls regarding their life in your hands, regardless of expert opinion.
They talk to you clearly, never doubt what you know is right for them, regardless what others say.

I am glad SAM touched you, she was very special. FH