Our Burning Planet


Malnourished and dead seals continue to wash up on South Africa’s coastal beaches

Malnourished and dead seals continue to wash up on South Africa’s coastal beaches
The Sea Search Research and Conservation team have been keeping track of hundreds of dead Cape fur seals that have washed up in areas along the West Coast including Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay and Paternoster. (Photo: Sea Search Research and Conservation)

Scientists have not yet pinpointed the reason for the die-off of Cape fur seals.

Thousands of Cape fur seals, dead or dying, have continued to wash ashore at Shelly Beach, Elands Bay and Lamberts Bay on the West Coast since October. 

In October, Daily Maverick reported that marine scientists were trying to find out what had caused the die-off.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) sent technicians and scientists to do an inspection visit at the onset of the mortalities in September.

DFFE spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said that in September only 16 mortalities were recorded – seven at St Helena Bay, nine at Elands Bay. Thousands died towards the end of October.  

“Carcasses are picked up by the various affected municipalities. The areas that are affected in the West Coast are Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, St Helena Bay and Paternoster,” he said.

Nqayi said once they had received the report on the cause/s of the seal die-off they would issue an update.

The Western Cape Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC, Anton Bredell, said that, “Between Laaiplek and Dwarskersbos in the Bergrivier Municipality region, 144 seals were buried last Tuesday, with another 50 at Elands Bay. 

“It appears that the seals are dying due to malnutrition…  we are urging the public not to feed any seals despite the concerns about malnutrition. The animals remain wild creatures and must not be made dependent on human interaction for survival,” he said.

Sea Search and Namibian Dolphin Project co-director Dr Tess Gridley said the Sea Search Team had been working tirelessly over the past two months to help understand and co-ordinate information about the deaths of the seals.   

Last Friday she received reports of a young seal dying between Muizenberg and St James in Cape Town and another very thin animal at the St James pool.

She called on members of the public to report any sightings of seals along the coastline so that they can collate data on the current die-off.

“An adult female was convulsing at Witsand (Kommetjie) and another in Melkbosstrand is being put to sleep by the SPCA,” she said. 

“There is so much we don’t know yet about the die-off. We need to do more pathology testing at the vet lab, which is pricey. We need to travel north to see what is happening there and we need more time to collate all the records sent to us by valuable and concerned members of the public – the true citizen scientists,” Gridley said. DM/OBP

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Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • SJ Bellinger says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, DM. Perhaps in articles like this where feedback/support is required (in this case iro dying/dead seals) to include either links to – or contact details for – where to contact the relevant individual or organisation? Would make it much easier and more likely that those moved to act would do so, rather than forgetting about it under the pressures of the day. In this particular case – does one contact Anton Bredell, Dr Tess Gridley or SPCA? Probably ideally only one of them so as to optimise both record-keeping and response?

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