Everybody is invited for a seal potjie at Cape Cross
The self-styled conservationists who claim to protect seals, have turned into cyber terrorists. Realising that they have failed to stir emotions to create a large Namibian following, the organisation that calls itself The Seals of Nam, has now resorted to attacking everybody that disagrees with their point of view. Starting last weekend, they launched a concerted cyber attack against the mail servers of several groups that support the annual culling of the seal resource.
I am very confused over their definition of garnering support but there is no misunderstanding of their views on how to make enemies. Fortunately, Namibia is a free democracy and everybody is allowed to express his or her opinion provided it does not interfere with state security or infringes upon the liberties of others. But the actions of this week clearly indicate that the seal huggers are on a crusade and that they do not shy away from fighting dirty.
To try and make some sense of this clash that is now bordering on the irrational, let me try and put the facts into perspective.
The seal protectors claim nobody knows exactly how many seals there are. They even often publish a ridiculous figure of a total population of around 400,000 animals. Our researchers have long conceded that we do not know exactly how many there are, but several surveys, as well as seasonal monitoring puts the entire Namibian population between 800,000 and one million animals. And that is a conservative estimate, based on conservative assumptions since all scientists are by nature conservative investigators.
Furthermore, the South African colonies have been decimated and the number of Cape Fur Seal permanently in their waters may count no more than one million. There is also a not-insubstantial seasonal migration along the coast as the seals are blissfully unaware that the political flavour changes at the Orange River. From records compiled over many decades, a picture emerges showing that the Namibian seal population has gradually increased over the past two decades.
Seals are dependent on pelagic fish as a food source. So it follows self-evidently that seals follow the seasonal migratory lines of pelagic species. Since we have also not done too bad a job of protecting our fish resources, the available food source has stabilised and recuperated from the almost total eradication before Independence. Thus, more food, more seals.
Seal populations are subject to enormous fluctuations for various reasons of which disease and emaciation are the most notorious causes for mass mortalities. I remember at least three occasions over the past two-and-a-half decades when one could not drive a hundred metres on the beach without finding at least two or three dead seals. In two of these waves of mass mortality, the affected animals were mostly mature individuals and the cause was disease. In another occurrence, the dead animals were mostly pups and young weaned seals. In this last instance around 1998, I remember the absence of inshore pelagic shoals were eventually established as the main reason for the mass mortalities. For the young animals, the distance they had to swim to get to their food source, was simply too far. They used more energy getting to the fish and back to the shore than what they obtained from their nourishment, so they died on their way back. Essentially they starved.
Finally, and perhaps most disappointing to the seal lobby, is the fact that seals are not a particularly popular animal in Namibia. We do not go out of our way to eradicate them, we cull around 10% of the population annually, that is if we can manage to bag the entire quota, but for the rest, we leave them alone, allowing the colonies to grow naturally as nature intended, and then imploding when their numbers cannot be sustained by the environment. We certainly do not harbour a misplaced pseudo-emotional attachment to seals in particular. These animals constitute a natural resource which we extract as conditions permit.
The biggest problem lies with the method of culling. The young pups are clubbed to death and this provides gory footage that upsets the squeamish and the sensitive. I have often advocated that we need to develop a culling practice that is quick and with minimal disturbance to the colony. I hope the researchers are working on that one.
Inside the colonies, an energetic level of not-so-mild chaos reigns continuously 24/7. I have often described the conditions in a seal colony and find it a waste of time to have to point out again: the seal colony is a cacophonic, stinking, murderous affair. More pups die a natural death or are simply trampled by the huge bulls, than we can ever hope to cull.
And when you join me for my special seal potjie at the coast, please come try out your own recipe. The meat will be very fresh.