Namibian Seal Killing, Trade, Legal and Socio-Economic Aspects :


It is important when reviewing Namibian Seal Killing, that all aspects are considered.

During a presentation to IWMC by Dr BJ Van Zyl, Namibian Ministry of Fisheries on sustainable use in 1999, the following quotes or comments were made, “When the current concessionaires became involved in sealing in 1990, the Industry was non-existent. No markets existed for any of the raw products other than male genitals. No information on harvesting techniques, products or markets was available. The infrastructure was in a very poor state. The Industry has already created 162 job opportunities. Sealing methods are currently regulated through the Seabirds and Seals Protection Act (Republic of South Africa, Act No 46 of 1973). Although this legislation is still in force in Namibia, it is in the process of incorporating seabirds and seals into a revised fisheries act. Recommended pup harvests may be as high as 30% of the pups born. Aerial population surveys are conducted between 18-24 December each year when the oldest pups are less than 6 weeks old. At this time the maximum number of live pups is expected to be present in the colonies. Quotas are allocated annually to the 2 concessionaires and the harvesting season begins on 1
st August and lasts until mid-November. Namibian seals haul out in aggregations at some 21 sites along the coast and adjacent islands, of which 15 are regarded as breeding colonies. The two largest breeding colonies, Cape Cross, and Wolf/Atlas Bay are responsible for 75% of the pup production”. Sealing quotas are applied to these two colonies involving 75% of the population.

In the socio-economic sense, the above represents a consumptive use of the resource, however, the issues surrounding non-consumptive use (eco-tourism) as a sustainable and job-creating industry, should be compared in comparison. Although seal viewing eco-tourism is a fast sustainable growing industry, the Namibian government appears to place little emphasis on its contribution to the economy, preferring to focus instead of the merits of sealing. In this regard, potential seal haul-out habitat suitable for eco-tourism and boat-based viewing should be considered, as currently, sealing and eco-tourism, share only 3 of the 21 seal colonies mentioned.

Government has intentionally banned seals from suitable eco-tourism viewing island habitats in order to concentrate and group these animals into 3 mainland colonies (75% of the population) to effect cost-effective sealing practices, thereby preventing the development of some potential boat based seal island eco-tourism viewing, which is increasingly become a top attraction to visiting tourists from around the world. Providing year round, employment and sustainable jobs.

According to European Food Safety Draft Review (2007) and the submission by a Namibian Scientist (Kirkman 2007), “Nursing may last for 12 months or longer, with a small proportion of pups reportedly being nursed for a second and, possibly, a third year”.

The Commission on Sealing held in South Africa in 1990, which lead to South Africa adopting a moratorium on commercial sealing, made the following recommendation, “The Cape fur seals in Namibia and South Africa should be managed as one population, there is no biological distinction between the two countries seal population”. Research conducted between 1959 and 1971 (Rand) found pups tagged at birth at Seal Island, False Bay in South Africa, were recovered off Namibia 1650km away, with some even aged as young as 10 months.

The sealing quota both in South Africa, during the period 1973 to 1990, and thereafter in Namibia, until present day has involved a quota upon which 90% is nursing seal pup based, with the balance made up of bull seals. Methods involve clubbing the pups and sticking in the heart, and bulls are shot. Adult females are exempt from any harvest.

However, this method of clubbing nursing baby seal pups (currently in use by Namibia and previously by South Africa), was banned after the United States introduced the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1971.

Thereafter as all pup skins were currently being exported to the United States, (which at the time was sealing under a government department know as the Guano Island Sealing Division) South African government sort various waivers, which in turn lead to independent veterinarian review, which in turn lead to an US Appeal court finding, whose findings were, “In August 1974, the veterinarians judged that the harvest did not attain the standards of humaneness required by the US Department of Commerce. The US MMPA Act states “marine mammals or their products may not be imported into the US if the animals concerned were (1) pregnant at the time of taking; (2) nursing at the time of taking; or less than 8 months old, whichever occurs later; (3) taken in a manner deemed inhumane. The waiver was finally invalidated in July 1977 by an Appeal Court on the basis of infraction of those parts of the MMPA concerning nursing and the age of harvested animals”.

The US has continued its ban on the import of Cape fur seal products since.

South Africa in response, introduced the Seabirds and Seals Protection Act No 46 of 1973, which sort to privatise its sealing industry. Private commercial sealing concession holders were tasked to established new markets for the raw products, and to facilitate the export and trade in this species, listed Cape Fur Seals under Appendix II of the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) in 1977, which facilitated the circumnavigation of the US ban, thereby allowing sealers to now legally export their seal products instead to Europe. CITES makes no distinction of the age or welfare of the species taken, whether it was pregnant or nursing. According to CITES trade database, sealers have since exported 100% of their nursing pup Cape fur seal skins, in their raw state, to over 21 countries in Europe.

This has resulted in somewhat of a contradiction in European legislation, for in 1983, Europe introduced a ban on the import of nursing seal pups from the seal species found in the northern hemisphere (Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway) for two species commercially hunted of the Harp seal and Hooded Seal species, with are weaned at three weeks and 12 months (like the Cape fur seal pups) respectively. Although these two species have not been classified as endangered. In 1985, Europe made the ban on these nursing pups permanent, which in turn lead to the sealing countries of Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway introducing legislation in their own sealing regulations banning the practice of hunting nursing baby seals in 1987.

Unfortunately, for the Cape fur seals, Europe excluded this species in its ban’s in 1983 and 1985. Which further resulted in Namibia and South Africa failing to introduce similar ban’s in its sealing regulations. To the contrary, exports of Cape fur seal pups increased, as did the quotas on these nursing pups, with a population starting to decline significantly.

With pup quota’s increasing from 16 000 in 1989 to 85 000 in 2006, and 80 000 a year, rolling for 2007, 2008 and 2009. An increase of 430% in pup sealing quotas to meet European demand.

A possible reason why nursing baby seal skin imports were excluded from the 1983 and 1985, European ban, may be found in the communication received from UK MEP Caroline Lucas in September 2006, co-sponsor of the Written Declaration now being considered by the EU Commission, “We are horrified that the Namibian authorities are culling 85,000 seal pups this year - an act of unjustified cruelty. The culls in Canada and Russia have been much publicised
but until this week we were unaware of the plight of the Cape fur seals. We agree that any European ban must include all seal products and will do all that we can to help bring about an end to the unnecessary and inhumane slaughter of seal pups in Namibia”.

As various countries around the world have since continued to introduce legislation on the banned import of Cape fur seal products, like South Africa with its moratorium on sealing and imports, US and Mexico, Belgium, Italy and most recently Germany and Netherlands with specific Cape fur seal product import bans. As a result, Namibian sealers have recently signed a three-year contract to supply Turkey (a non-EU member), and it is for this reason that the Ministry has set an un-sustainable three year rolling quota, of 80 000 pups and 6000 bulls per year for the 2007, 2008 and 2009, sealing seasons. Making this the second largest seal hunt in the world, but more importantly the largest nursing seal pup harvest, and the largest with regard the percentage of pups to overall population.

Although trade in the CITES Appendix II species is controlled by CITES since 1977 (South Africa), to which Namibia ratified its position in 1991. This trade makes no distinction between the age of seals or the factor of whether they are taken when nursing. Equally, this has not stopped Namibian sealers attempting exports to countries that have banned the import (resulting in seizures and criminal convictions in various countries), nor did sealing exports cease during the mass die-off year’s recorded in 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2006 or even disregarded their own sealing quotas with 117 400 pup skin export in 2002 on a 60 000 pup quota. A fact which prompted CITES to place Namibia under a Review of Significant Trade. The CITES Secretariat relies upon the Scientific Authority in Namibia for sustainability data, whom are directly employed by the Namibian Fisheries Ministry, and as has been stated publicly (Kirkman 2007), the Minister frequently disregarded the scientific advice, and instructed the scientists to set the quotas as he saw fit, often at double the recommended scientific level.


As the Namibian Ministry has stated sealing was regulated under the Seabirds and Seal Protection Act No.46 of 1973 (South Africa), until 2000, and thereafter incorporated into its Marine Resources Act of 2000. An examination of the definitions of both Acts, reveals that the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Minister ends at the High Tide water-mark. The sealing method in Namibia involves driving the herds of seals away from the water, in-land, way beyond the high tide, before clubbing commences. This is in fact somewhat unnatural, as the seals living in their natural habitat, islands, would prevent such activity from taking place. Although never tested in court, these sealing permits could be challenged for their validity, with regard to the jurisdiction aspects. Thereby making the killing of seals beyond the high-tide a criminal offence.

In addition, although the Ministry states there are 21 colonies, it confirms 2 colonies consist of 75% of the seal population, where it is here that sealing quotas are awarded for each colony. A review of the legislation equally, defines that none of the mainland colonies are protected under the Act(s) and that the jurisdiction only applies from the High-Tide, seawards and includes various offshore local islands. Therefore making these sealing permits unlawful, as they fall outside the jurisdiction of the Act. In addition the Ministry has a policy of banning seals from these protected islands, causing in some cases the direct extinction of these colonies, and in others preventing re-population. Three of Namibia’s largest former seal island colonies, have been exterminated and are currently banned to seals.

Under the Constitution of Namibia, consumptive use of seals is only permitted if it is sustainable (which the Oxford Dictionary defines as a non depletion of the wild population). The Ministry has stated that sustainable seal pup quotas, “Recommended pup harvests may be as high as 30% of the pups born”. The seal pup quota in 2006 was set at 85 000 pups for Cape Cross and Wolf/Atlas Bay, whose pup production in 2006 recorded 121 462 pups. The sustainable quota at 30%, should have been 36 438 pups, the quota awarded exceeded this by more than double.

The Ministry itself admitted in 2006 and 2007, that the Seal population in Namibia is still 27% below that recorded in 1993. In 1993, the pup quota was set at 48 000 pups, of which sealers were only able to kill 33 017 pups.

Namibian sealing regulations define a pup as a seal pup less than 1 year old. Video evidence supplied to the EFSA clearly shows seals older than 1 year being killed via clubbing. Equally, an examination of the sealing quotas, reveals that sealers only filled on average 62% (49,3% - 91,5%) of their TAC pup quota since 1990, and have yet after 17 years, failed to fill this annual “sustainable” set quota.

Although also not tested in court, the Minister of Fisheries awards sealers “sustainable” permits to kill seals, and a second Minister, the Minister of Environment issues additional permits to international hunters to hunt bull seals for trophy hunting, and also issues live export permits. Data for this is not published, but could significantly impact on the future survival of this species.


As Namibia’s sealing industry is 90% nursing seal pup based, and as Seal Alert-SA as asserted in numerous reports recently to the EU, that had the EU included Cape fur seal pup imports in their 1983 and 1985 seal pup import ban, by setting the same criteria the US used in its ban on seal imports since 1971, it is likely Namibian sealing industry would have ended. As it did, in 1990, for the same species in South Africa.

Instead, Namibia increased pup quotas and exports to Europe. Which subsequently resulted as well in Namibian sealers trying to export pup skins illegally to the US, which resulted in 5000 skins being seized by US Customs and FOAA Fishery Officials in 2002 and which South Africa criminally convicting an importer for two separate consignments of skins in 2003. With all these skins originating from permitted Namibian sealers.

It is clear from these seizures and criminal convictions, that as the whole Namibian sealing industry consists of two main concession holders, that the entire industry is prepared to be involved in illegal smuggling. Which in itself, should be considered a very real threat to the security of Europe as a whole.


Historically, 63% of the weight of pups and 75% of the weight of bulls was discarded as waste. After concerns raised about the particular wastefulness of this industry, Namibian sealers have subsequently be regulated to utilise the whole carcass. This now presents added concerns to public health and possible legal implications.

BJ Van Zyl from the Ministry has stated. MEAT and BONES: Carcass meal. High protein animal fodder. Scientific research has shown that the jackals and hyena’s predating on the seals within the colonies on the mainland, has tested positive for rabies and distemper virus, amongst a whole range of other viruses and diseases. The mass die-offs recorded in 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002 and most recently in 2006, where the Namibian Ministry itself was unsure whether the cause was a virus or starvation, as noted in the Press Release (October 2006) “Studies are being conducted to determine whether the die-off’s are a consequence of any pathological infection (viral or bacteriological) or not”. Could pose tremendous health risks for Europe, as currently there is no health certification in place in Namibia for this industry, bearing in mind, as well, skins are exported raw.

SEAL OIL : Seal Oil as a supplement to animal fodder. Omega 3 Oil for human consumption, soon or currently being exported to Europe. Seal oil-based skin ointment.

SKINS : Raw, salted seal pup skins with raising demand, particular from Europe.

CURIOS : Seal Skins are processed locally and used in the manufacturing of shoes, handbags, wallets and belts etc. Seal teeth and whiskers are used in manufacturing jewellery. With Germany and the Netherlands, two of the largest incoming tourist countries to Namibia. Subsequent purchases by these tourists of seal curio items in Namibia, could potentially lead to criminal convictions in these respective countries, due to their recent import bans on these seal products.

According to data produced at the 9 August 2007 Meeting with the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries. Namibian $4,5 million (450 000 euros) has been invested in Seal Processing Factory, Craft Shop and Workshop. Three sealing concession holders earn approximately Namibian $ 5 million ( 500 000 euros) and employ 150 people from July to November. Revenue to government is Namibian $206 000 (20 000 euros).

The above data supplied was not substantiated by the Ministry, and in some aspects contradicts previous statements and published data. For example, in a Ministry press release (July 2007), “Sealing industry in Namibia sustain 140 direct jobs of the unemployed, poor and destitute”. By definition these workers are neither skilled, trained or offered permanent employment.

In the 2002 30
th Edition of the Fishing Industry Handbook, Namibian Seal Exports showed a significant decline in the average price achieved in exports.
In 1999, 25 161 skins were exported, earning Namibian $3,5 million (350 000 euros), in 2000, although the pup quota was doubled from 30 000 to 60 000 pups. Namibian sealers exported 41 753 pup skins, earning Namibian $600 000 (60 000 euros). This is a decline in per skin from N$139 to N$14.

During a Seal Alert-SA meeting with the Prime Minister of Namibia (July 2007), his Excellency Nahas Angula made the following statement (as recorded on National SABC Television, “The tourist potential, yes, who doesn’t want the tourists to come to Namibia and watch seals. That’s fine I don’t think there is a contradiction between watching seals and harvesting some of them”.

Although this is the belief of the Namibian government (as per the statements recorded by visiting tourists from Europe as per the 5050 transcript of program), the vast majority of tourists disagree. What Namibia relies on to do both is a system of deceit. Tourists are commonly unaware that sealing takes place just minutes before their entrance fee is paid to enter this Seal Reserve. The Cape Cross seal colony is closed to the public between 5am and 10am. Which is when the sealing takes place. Sealers physically cover-up the blood-soaked sand and remove all seal carcasses in trucks. When tourists often enquiry why a jackal is foraging at a certain pool of blood in the colony, Namibian officials would be deceitful and claim that it was a recent Jackal kill. If tourists attempt to visit the colony during the sealing hours (5am to 10am), they will be arrested.

The above reflects Namibia’s sealing policy which it has stated is protected under the Constitution, stating, Article 95 (1), “the utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians”.

However, if carefully read, this Constitution makes no mention of the word “sealing”. By definition sealing is the consumptive use of the resource, but equally the Constitution could be implied to use the seal resource, non-consumptively (eco-tourism), like it is done in South Africa, with a similar Constitution.

It is furthermore, of interest to note, that Namibian government offered the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) the opportunity to “buy-out” the two rights holders on condition, a) They (IFAW) should pay the annual levies on the annual TAC, and b) must establish a trust fund to pay the workers who will lose their jobs a pension.

Such offer was apparently not accepted by IFAW, however (as per the 50/50 program transcript), the Humane Society of America with its 10 million members has indicated it is willing to offer a similar proposal (2006), Rebecca Aldworth, “The HSUS has already suggested this program in Canada, we would be very anxious to sit down at the table of anybody who would talk to us in Namibia about doing the same thing”.


Although during the Fisheries Ministry meeting in August 2007, data was provided on tourist eco-viewing numbers and revenue. No further details were provided, except Namibia stated that besides the 53 113 – 70 427 tourists visiting the Cape Cross seal colony, which earns approximately Namibian $2 million in entrance fee sales, an additional 34 000 tourists undertake seal viewing boat rides offered by a tour-operator in WalvisBay.

According to the website of this tourist operator, they have a fleet of 6 catamaran boats, with a restaurant and coffee shop facility. There is also a similar operator in the same bay, and another in Luderitz. Investment in this eco-tourism industry therefore exceeds an estimated Namibian $4 million (400 000 euros). Boat-ride ticket income exceeds Namibian $6 million (600 000 euros) per annum.

Combined the income from the Cape Cross Seal Viewing and the boat-rides, exceeds Namibian $8 million.

When comparing seal eco-tourism to sealing it is clear, eco-tourism creates year-round jobs whose income exceeds the sealing industry by at least N$2 million. Even at the Sealing industries alleged N$ 5 million income, based on 2006 TAC, the average income for slaughtering and exporting the products of each seal is Namibian $60 (6 euros). Whereas sustainable, year-round tourism are prepared to pay between N$39 – 180, for the simple pleasure of viewing these animals in their natural habitat.

In further comparison, in South Africa, the smallest seal colony and its boat-trips to the colony, has become one of the top ten attractions, with over 300 000 tourists paying R35 – R50, earning annually for its 6 boat-based operators in excess of R15 million (1,5 million euros), in addition previously disadvantage people have set up trading stalls, which number 22, and who directly employ a further 3 – 5 people to manufacture and sell their curio items, generating an income per annum which exceeds R8 million. In addition multi-million restaurants have developed alongside as well as a curio shop, whose income per annum exceeds R12 million.

Total revenue directly linked to this seal colony exceeds R35 million (3,5 million euros) and creates year round direct employment for over 300 people.

Namibia with 75% of the seal population in its waters, has vast potential to further develop this industry, with a number of islands situated off Luderitz harbour, one of which (the second largest island in Namibia) being actually called Seal Island.

Number of visitors
Gross direct income
70 427
1 708 322
62 998
1 504 695
57 597
1 904 012
53 113
2 071 485
2007 -July
25 949
984 878

An article by the Sunday Independent (2 September 2007), “Seal Slaughter killing ecotourism industry”, clear proves that Namibia cannot do both, with sealers causing the largest seal colony (Cape Cross) to become completely deserted just 22 days into the 139 day sealing season. This is a colony, that Namibian Fisheries Ministry claimed has recorded the highest growth since 2002 and is the largest colony for seals in Namibia. Today, this colony lies deserted.

The other seal colony (Wolf/Atlas bay), where sealing occurs is situated within the diamond restricted area, controlled through a partnership with De Beers and the Namibian government. Tourism to this colony is prohibited. However, there is an additional concern, with De Beers the largest producer of gem diamonds, and has been stated by De Beers CEO Stephen Lussier, “Like you, I cannot help but be moved by the images you have seen. De Beers does not support any seal culling activity”. However a website has been launched, and with these diamonds being traded in Belgium and the Netherlands, amongst other European countries, this boycott could intensify and impact significantly of trade in Europe.

Seal Alert-SA therefore trusts the EFSA and the EU Commission will reach a similar conclusion, and recommend a complete ban of the import of Cape fur seal products into Europe, for the various reasons stated above.

As all data was taken from published accounts, if necessary, could the EFSA specify which data reference is required, which Seal Alert-SA would happily forward.

Seal Alert-SA encloses a letter written by the Dutch Minister to stop sealing and the letter from De Beers.

For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA