By : Sealalert
Sent : Thu, 29. Nov 2007

Dear All Cape Fur Seal Supporters,

Seal Alert-SA Bursting At the Seams
- When the Impossibility Becomes the Reality -

21 rescued weanlings from Namibia and 12 little tiny baby seal pups

I trust you all are well. It has been almost two months since my last update and it has been a hectic two months at that. After my meeting with the Prime Minister of Namibia and their follow-up meeting with the Fisheries Ministry, there has been complete silence. Seal Alert-SA has since presented two damning reports to the EU Commissioners and European Food Safety Review taking place. I suspect Namibia is awaiting the outcome of this review, before agreeing to further discussions, but as expected, sealers charging into 75% of the Cape fur seal population, which they claim to number 700 000 seals, swinging away at nursing baby seal pups, will and does have its knock-on effects. Effects that physically displace an entire generation of new-born's causing them to flee like refugees from a war-torn country.

It is these effects, the separation of tens of thousands of nursing baby seals from their mothers, that has become my sole nightmare for the past two months. The small centre we have built, would be soon put to the ultimate test. From the 5th October, daily reports started coming in of starving baby seals fleeing the Namibian killing fields coming ashore. I could already foresee the pattern, the closer one got up the coast to Namibia, the greater the number of reported strandings, soon they would reach Cape Town, 1600 kilometres away.

So it started, with numbers estimated in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, needing help, I was powerless to attempt only single responses per day. Some days even three seals were rescued. With as many as 5 calls in a single day. Bart Smither's Wildlife Seal program on the Namibian clubbing shown on SABC 50/50, did little to help matters, as this just meant, more and more people called to report a dying seal.

Within a few days, I was reaching crisis proportions. The workload was massive, even getting up at 5am and returning home at 11pm, was proving an impossibility. 21 pups require massive care. I was cutting the heads and tails off over 1000 pilchards before liquidising, which alone was taking hours. Strangely this year, only two of the 21, would eat whole fish, the rest all demanded, like little babies, to be each tube fed, fighting over the tube. The pools and centre had to be cleaned three times a day, just to deal with all the excrement.

On top of this, a month pre-mature, 12 new-born babies arrived in the most frail of conditions. I now had 35 seals in the centre, and a further 15-20 outside. I faced a financial nightmare. These 35 to rehab, which could even take up to 12 months to rehab. I would be forced to purchase between 400 and 800 boxes of 5kg pilchards a month, costing between R15-30 000. If successfully rehabbed for the year R200-400 000.

To compound matters furthers, the pilchards caught in spring are in spawn, and are rejected by the pups. In addition, these fish have very little oil or fat content and appear to taste bitter. This is hugely problematic, as you are required to feed even greater quantities, which causes these seals to have consent diarrhoea. Pilchards caught in winter are better, but as the resource is overfished, there is just no means of buying stock a few months old. Even a request to the CEO of the largest pilchard processing group and quota holder, revealed that they themselves are forced to import over 7 million cartons of pilchards from Chile.

Clearly an individual cannot be expected to cope solely with this massive onslaught. For years Nelda and I, have funded 90% of our own rescues. Of the 33 seals taken in at the centre, one member of the public donated R100 and another R500.

The situation reached crisis proportions. The new-born babies coming in, if they are not crying or do not instantly form a bond and start suckling, they will reject care and die. As expected, one by one, they started to die, after a week, I was left with the smallest, a sole survivor. Compounded to this the weather turned extreme, with massive winds and very cold temperatures, costing the life of even one of the weanlings.

The end for me was in sight. I knew I could not possibly afford to continue for the month of December, which was also the start of pupping season, where thousands of babies would wash ashore.

It was heartbreaking to come to the conclusion to stop the rehab, and release the entire group. Seal pups that had formed instant bonds, and that were so thankful and full of hope to be given a second chance in their first year of life. They truly loved their centre, and it was an amazing experience coming into a seal colony each morning. One morning I loaded all remaining 19 into a crate and trolleyed them down the pier for their premature release. Confused and terrified, it broke my heart. Taking each one out and tube-feeding before release, was the hardest. Some headed out to sea immediately, others did just not want to leave and others scattered out in the rocks below. Three pups gave up, and died in the cold waters, and further two started dying and forced me to re-capture them, and take them back to the centre, where they too died within the next 48 hours.

Of the original 19 released, 7 have chosen to stay, and which I will continue their rehab in the wild, along with Mumkin, who after two years, refuses to leave. Since starting seal rescue in 1999, I have never been forced to do something like this, but there was no alternative. My appeal for 500 seal supporters worldwide to contribute a regular monthly amount of $25, was met with a pledge from 5.

As I have been financially forced to stop, for the first time, I have also had to stop responding to the daily calls streaming in from the public, reporting more and more seal pups coming ashore. I now no longer even return their calls. In the last few days I estimate a further 40 odd pups, with no hope of survival, would have just slowly died on the public beaches from stress and starvation.

Bearing in mind, the calls I receive are just the tip of the ice-berg.

What would have helped tremendously, if I had had the funds to open the four-walled centre onto the pier outside, and the construction of a ramp into the sea. This would a given the 19 seals a fighting chance, as it would have been a slow release, and one in which they would have been able on their own to return to the centre, on their own free will, if they could not survive. But again, there were no funds available to accomplish this.

So it appears the impossibility has become the reality. Rescue for me and the seals has ended. I have pledged to see out the rehab of the 7, and to get JT and Omega the babies from last year back into the wild, and to see through the rehab of the sole surviving baby for this year, as well as being there for Mumkin. These 11 seals will still cost me, over R10 000 a month or R120 000 for the coming year, which I hope Nelda and I, will somehow be able to fund.

After this, whatever funds I have spare, I would like to complete the outside of the centre, so that in the very least, the dying seals will have a secure place, protected in their hour of dying need.

So, to all of you, that have helped save the lives of so many seals to date, my deepest, deepest thanks. Over 5000 seal lives were saved, the size of a small seal colony.

If any of you have the means to contribute further, my banking details are enclosed below.
Seal Alert-SA Postal Address. SEAL ALERT-SA, BOX 221, POSTNET, HOUT BAY, 7872, SOUTH AFRICA

ZAR is South AfricanRand

More information to be able to send the money via internet:

SEAL ALERT-SA ACC : 911 2201 321
BRANCH CODE : 632 005


Bank name : ABSA
City/code : TABLE VIEW, 7439
Country : South Africa

For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA