The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa is a community consisting of twenty-five South African wildlife and environmental conservation organisations that share common values, knowledge and objectives and who collectively comprise of a body of expertise from different sectors including but not limited to scientific, legal, welfare, rights, social justice, indigenous and public advocacy backgrounds.
Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries has issued a quota for the harvesting or culling of 80 000 seal pups and 6000 seal bulls. Mr Romeo Muyunda, spokesperson for the Namibian Environment Ministry said: “If you let the seal population grow, they will consume the commercial amounts of fish.”
The Namibian Ministry has said that the harvesting of seals contributes to state revenue for national development programs. “Namibia’s seal population has increased to the point where they exceeded by far the carrying capacity of the environment therefore it is humane to curb the unrestricted seal population to a level where they can be sustained by the environment,” the government said in a statement.
THE CAPE FUR SEAL
The Cape Fur Seal is the most common seal species to be found in southern African waters. They occur from the Namibian west coast to East London on the east coast of South Africa. Their food consists mainly of shoaling pelagic fish such as pilchard, hake, Cape mackerel and snoek. They also eat squid and crustaceans. Cape Fur Seals are generalist feeders catching a wide variety of prey and are expected to feed on locally abundant prey species. Cape fur seals forage within 220km of their colony.
The uncontrolled exploitation of the Cape Fur Seal has previously led to a serious reduction in population numbers. In 1983 they were protected in South Africa by an Act of the Cape Parliament and harvesting was controlled until 1990 when it was finally prohibited. The protection of the seals and the halt to all sealing activities resulted in the recovery of the populations. Sealing continues in Namibia where it is still permitted. The effect of declining pelagic fish stocks on seal populations is a concern and the subject of several current research projects.
Every year quotas are set for the commercial “harvesting” or culling of the Cape Fur Seal in Namibia. Namibia is the only country in the Cape Fur Seal’s range in which commercial hunting is permitted. Sealing occurs on two mainland colonies, Cape Cross and Wolf/Atlas Bay.
THE SEAL HARVEST INDUSTRY
Seals are killed for their fur which was traded globally however there is a marked reduction in demand due to the European market ban on seal imports.
The Namibian harvesting season officially opened this year on the 1st of July 2023. Namibian seal products are now mainly exported to Asian markets, after twenty-seven countries, including the European Union, the United States of America, Mexico, and South Africa have banned the import of all seal products.
Of the Asian countries, the main market for Namibia’s seal cull has shifted to China. Seal penis is a delicacy enjoyed in China and seal fat is used in beauty products. According to a 2014 published report titled Grey Seal Management: Commercial use Opportunities and Challenges, Asian consumers, particularly athletes, consume a beverage called Dalishen Oral Liquid that is made from seal penis and testicles which they believe to be energizing and performance enhancing. The report also suggests that seal meat could be processed as meatballs, sausages, pate and an infinite range of entrees targeting gourmet food and wine clubs.
According to an article published in National Geographic in 2016, the oil derived from the blubber of the Cape Fur Seal advertised online as rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and allegedly is more readily absorbed by the human body given its mammalian source than fish oil. Since 2005, Namibia exported 33 000 gallons of seal oil, a third of which was exported to China.
Hatem Yavuz, the Namibian Honorary Consul to Turkey in 2012, was the main fur trader and buyer of seal skins from Namibia. According to an article published in 2014 he controlled 82 percent of the world’s seal fur trade.
The Hatem Yavuz Group is based in Turkey and Australia, it represented, according to an article published in 2016, the largest trade of any mammal out of Africa. An estimated 400 000 seal pelts from 2005 to 2015. According to Seven Network in Australia, the Yavuz Group controls 60 percent of the global market in seal products.
In 2020 and 2021 the brutal slaughter of the Cape Fur Seal was put on hold because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
DON’T IGNORE THE SCIENTIFIC WARNINGS
In 2022 it was reported that hundreds of dead Cape Fur Seals had washed up on a stretch of Namibian coastline. Hundreds upon hundreds of dead seals littered the beaches at Pelican Point, a 5km colony situated in Walvis Bay. Scientists from Stellenbosch University and Sea Search believed the cause of the death of these seals was linked to biotoxins namely domoic acid, produced by certain types of algae. The seals did not die of malnutrition, pollution, or exposure to noise according to the Namibian Dolphin Project.
In 2020 thousands of Cape Fur Seals died in what was termed an abortion storm. An unusual mortality event among one of the world’s largest seal colonies caused great concern among scientists. More than 5000 aborted Cape Fur Seal fetuses washed up on Central Namibia’s Pelican Point shore over a period of a few months.
The spike in deaths was far higher than normally witnessed a phenomenon that worried local and international experts. “If you are seeing die-offs of the most common apex predator in that ecosystem, we should not just be concerned about the seals, we should be concerned about the ecosystem and this event should be flashing big warning lights”.
Ecocide was defined as “Unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.
Naude Dreyer, co-founder of Ocean Conservation Namibia Environmental Trust has expressed dismay over the lack of scientific research and decision-making based on demand. He has emphasized the potential disruption to the ecosystem caused by the removal of seal bulls.
Seals of Nam, a Namibian non-profit founded in 2010 with the goal of ending the country’s sealing industry is still hopeful that the ever-shrinking markets for seal products because of the global outcry against the mass killing of seals will eventually kill the industry.
Seal Protection Namibia a non-governmental organization is still seeking a ban on seal hunting on the grounds it is illegal and immoral.
Footage of the seals being clubbed to death has enraged animal rights campaigners for years. Terrified pups are rounded up, separated from their mothers, and violently beaten to death. The clubbing begins every morning at 6h00 am; then, at 9h00 am, the beaches have already been cleaned before the tourists arrive.
In 2012 Captain Pete Bethune founder of Earthrace Conservation witnessed the cull, and said: “It remains the most harrowing thing I have ever witnessed.” 2015 The Seals of Nam partnered with social media experts from the Seal Army in a global outcry against the annual Namibian seal hunt.
United Kingdom animal rights activist Ricky Gervais has joined other celebrities including George Lopez, Brigitte Bardot, Paul McCartney, Sara McLachlan, and Pamela Anderson who have condemned seal hunts in both Namibia and Canada. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has stated that the argument used by the Namibian government, protecting the fisheries because there is an issue of seal overpopulation, is invalid: “Studies have shown that overfishing is to blame”, with overfishing being the practice of fishing beyond what is allowed by permits, either at a rate that does not allow repopulation of species or by fishing untargeted species(bycatch) that are protected or threatened with extinction.
Studies indicate that overfishing is the primary cause of marine defaunation, while Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated fishing (IUU) is widely indicated by scientists as the cause of biodiversity loss, fish depletion and increased risks of shark and other endangered species extinction.
The Director of the conservation organization called, International Fund for Animal Welfare in South Africa, Jason Bell, commented on the proposed 2023 Namibian seal hunt “There is no justification for the killing, this is a purely political and economic issue, with very little concern for animal welfare.”
Seal Alert SA has expressed concerns about nursing seal pups being killed illegally. Namibia is the only country in the world that allows the killing of nursing seal pups. Seal Alert SA launched a bid in 2022 to interdict the seal cull. The Ombudsman’s office said that Seal Alert SA did not have a mandate to make recommendations to the Namibian government.
DESPITE THE MOUNTING OPPOSITION
Despite a decline in demand for seal pups and the mounting opposition from conservationists, the Namibian government has decided to continue with the annual cull.
WAPFSA Members hereby lend their unwavering support to all the organizations and individuals who have and continue to tirelessly defend the right to survival and the end to the abhorrent mass killing of the Cape Fur Seals in Namibia.
WAPFSA was initiated in 2017 as a collaborative network representing the interests of wild animals as a vehicle with which to engage governments on animal protection, ethical and compassionate conservation, welfare, and biodiversity loss issues amongst others.
The Cape Fur Seal, as well as its direct predators’ ranges, include the oceans of South Africa. We, therefore, agree that the protection of this mammal is of great importance to the continuance of a healthy aquatic ecosystem. We stand together on the shoulders of those before us, against the barbaric, unscientific and irresponsible, money-driven massacre of these mammals.
Image Credit: Jean Tresfon