Subject: Pin-Pricks on a Map - too Large an area for Cape fur Seals
Date: January 29, 2007
Dear All Cape Fur Seal Supporters,
       A recent article, by associate professor Peter Ryan in the next edition of Africa - Birds and Birding, he writes an article titled "Going, going Gannet ...". The article refers to the decline in the gannet seabird population breeding on previously extinct seal breeding islands (to which no mention is made), and which sights seals as a major threat to seabirds, whilst admitting that the collapsed fisheries from overfishing in the 1970s spells doom for this species.
       Its is this so-called intellectual scientific mumbo-jumbo that is the cause of all these marine creatures off our shores predicament. Seals (as with many other species) are all dependent on the same food source, and if it has drastically declined, so too are they endanger. Yet, where 75% of the Cape fur seals have been forced to re-locate to the mainland in Namibia, its policy is an annual population reduction or cull.
       So thanks to Google Earth and Nikki, I thought I would give you a clear impression visually, of what we are facing and therefore need to do.

       The African continent is a large mass of land, surrounded by many tens of thousands of kilometres of coastline. Along this entire African coastline, the only species of seal, or actually sea-lion (because it has external ears and walks on all four-flippers) is the Cape fur seals. Whose original breeding habitat (is marked by the small pink square), at the tip of Africa.

       On the map above (the pink square), covering a distance of about 250 kilometres from Hout Bay (where Seal Alert-SA is based) near the bottom of pic, and Saldanha Bay in the north, ly several offshore islands. Robben Island (Dutch word for seal) being the closest to Hout Bay and the largest. To the Cape fur seals, these islands represented over 85% of their offshore breeding habitat. There is 4% of this type of islands on the east coast, and 11% more off the Namibian coast. To the Cape fur seals, these barren offshore islands, was as sovereign as the island off the African east coast Madagascar, or Mauritius, Seychelles or even as Australia is to its people.
      In the global African continent context, a pin-prick of offshore land (in relatively speaking), so small not even a pin-prick would suffice or accurately mark its position. In further context, for the terrestrial wildlife in southern Africa alone, over hundred million hecta of land is earmarked for their future conservation. For the Cape fur seals, as an entire species (shared with at least thirty other species of seabird), it is just one thousand hecta, or 0,001 of what terrestrial wildlife have.
     Sealing, and in particular sealers from Europe and the America's caused the complete extermination of this species of seals from these few islands. Since 1900, they have remained either extinct, or unnaturally banned to Cape fur seals.
     This species of seal, historically was only found breeding on offshore islands.
     Seen in further context, (looking at the African continent map), this pin-prick on the map, based on current pup densities per square metre ( in its pre-undisturbed pristine state) could have supported over two million pups born. Less than 2% remain. Overall, taking the displaced seal pups on the mainland in Namibia, as well, and the population at its peak in 1993, was less than 16%, of its former self. But lets not get scientifically or mainstream conservationist like, lets rather visually visualise for ourselves. Lets say upon this pin-prick of offshore land, over 4 million babies were born at its highest population possible (double the highest pristine state).
     Is it such a bad, bad thing? So bad in fact, that both South Africa, and currently Namibia have in place, policies which annually reduce the seal population, (even though it is at 8 - 16% of its former size) or in relation to its habitat less than 2% remaining, by way of a commercial cull - that has continued, annually for over six decades. If all the Cape fur seals, tomorrow journey back to just one single island, Robben and re-located there, they would as an entire species occupy less than 20% of this one island.

     The small awash rocks (and three others like it), at the centre-bottom of the pic above, off Hout Bay, is whats left of the seals in this region. The islands long ago became extinct. 
     This is what Seal Alert-SA is all about, returning seals to these offshore islands ( in many cases named after them, protected and in some cases world heritage sites). Its why I work with seals everyday - to understand them, and why we have a seal centre, and equipment to be like seals at sea. Aboveall,  it is why, I spend an entire year, rehabbing a select group of babies, as a possible means of discovering clues in how to re-locate them - all, one day, back to their endemic and historical islands.
    If you understand this, and agree with it, that we are in essence trying to save an entire species, (today numbering less than a million) already extinct from 99% of its former habitat (the pin-prick of offshore land on the whole African continent) and who needs to be saved from gun-shots by 30 000 fishermen, tens of thousands drowned and entangled in commercial trawl nets, banning from islands, restricted to awash rocks where up to 100% unnatural mortalities occurs to its new-born babies from drowning, or the commercial culling in Namibia of 85 000 nursing baby seals (aged 7-months), that causes 75% of the Cape fur seals to flee daily in terror for half the year, eventually causing tens of thousands (the lucky ones that escaped the 50% sealing baby pup quota), to beach themselves elsewhere, even 1600 kilometres towards the Cape, and slowly starve to death.
   If you do, and are as disgusted and concerned that this type of thing can go on, then join with me - and lets physically do something, that they the seals can feel and touch. Not talking about saving seals in campaigns, but physically saving them.
   To repeat, less than 2% remains on this pin-prick of tiny offshore land, yet its Namibia's and South Africa's policy, to ensure through restricting seals to awash small rocks (banning them from larger islands) and annual mainland commercial population reduction culls - to further reduce this pin-prick of the only species of seal found breeding on the whole African continent.
   It all starts, with the babies born each year. The following links, will give you an idea of our latest endeavours (Its the personal experiences of Nikki and her visit to our new Seal Research/Rescue centre).
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA