Here sea-doggy! November 8, 2006Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Namibia, Out of the city, Uncategorized.
Suddenly there was a splashing commotion at the back of the boat, and a seal leapt aboard and hopped up on the bench I was sitting on. Alarmed by the immediate presence of this big wet sea creature with teeth, I sprang out my seat, and watched from behind a bench as Isak began hand feeding him fish. After reassurance from the skipper, we leant forward for a better look and to stroke its oily wet fur. By the side of the boat, another seal poked its head out the water, barking for attention; on clocking him, my new friend barked back and then threw its hefty weight overboard with a splash. And with good reason – the new arrival was a feisty bugger and a fair bit larger than the other. This one was so eager for fish he started head butting and biting the skipper. Throughout the day we were visited by this furry wet cuteness, growing with size with each visit. The last one apparently weighed about 800kg, who also had hopped up on my bench and squashed me – how many point do I get for being sat on by a massive seal?!
Walvis Bay has a huge seal colony at the end of the vast sandbar that stretches about 10km out to sea, known as Pelican Point. Although wild, a few seals have become tame over the years, and commonly board boats for fish. We discussed the ethics of this, but couldn’t actually see much wrong with it as the seals aren’t dependent on humans for their food, they aren’t trained to ‘perform’ and certainly aren’t harmed; and they put on a great show for gawking tourists like myself. I really like seals. They are so much like big wet dogs, very playful, and so cute. Although they move strangely, like a dog wrapped in a bin liner (not that I have seen this, nor would I encourage it!!). And if anyone could tell me what mammal group seals come from, I would be most grateful – to me they look like a cross between a dog, a mouse and a tortoise.
As we pulled up to Pelican Point, you could smell the seals before you could see them clearly. The whole sand bar was covered in thousands of seals, lazing in the sun and playing in the sea. But there were also many silent lumps half-covered in sand. This month thousands of seals have been washed up on the shore, and they are dying from starvation. Seals need to eat about a tenth of their body weight a day in fish, and without the presence of sharks to stabilise their population, there simply is not enough fish to go round. There is very little fishing here, and regulations appear to be strict so as to not deplete the fish population. Just before I moved here, I was working in an office opposite the Namibian Embassy in London; I remember one day hanging out the window with the other staff to get a better view of an anti-seal clubbing protest (they were making a lot of noise and a few of them were naked, so worth a peek!). I thought of this whilst we passed the mass open graves at this seal colony.
It takes about 3 months for a seal to die of starvation, and judging by the corpses, it is a wide-spread problem. And it’s sad that these beautiful creatures are suffering such an ill fate. Seal clubbing is illegal in Namibia, but has taken place before for this exact reason. Now the seals have overpopulated and are dying in the sea and on the beaches, causing all sorts of health risks to both the animal and human populations. Don’t get me wrong, as a vegetarian (ignore oyster and previous chicken comments) I don’t like the thought of animals being killed, but if it would bring the end to their suffering, protect the environment from diseases and even create some sort of income for the poor or unemployed, then it may need rethinking. If Brigit Bardot and the rest of her supporters are giving the Namibian coast dwellers such a hard time is just because seals are cute, then they may need to revise their campaign and start acknowledging all the environmental and social implications of this situation.
I’m on the fence, but let the debate begin…