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On 23 December, Station 6 (Gqeberha) duty crew received a call from Bayworld to assist with the return of a baby Cape fur seal to its home base.

“Our Cape fur seal population is found mostly on ‘Black Rocks’ Island within the Bird Island Marine Protected Area. The highest point is less than eight metres above the water, with a couple of hundred seals breeding on it. The pups are born in springtime, the same time as our windy season,” says Station 6 commander Justin Erasmus.

The area was experiencing particularly strong south easterly winds towards the end of December, which cause swells that can sweep baby seal pups off the rock – this is likely what happened to the pup recently returned to Black Rocks by Station 6 crew.

“Once in the water they are at the mercy of the currents and usually wash up on the beach between Sundays River Mouth and Woody Cape, where they are picked up by SANParks rangers who regularly patrol that stretch as it is part of Addo Elephant National Park. They are then brought to Bayworld where they are checked out and fed to get their weight back up,” says Justin. “They need to be reunited with their mothers within seven days, otherwise they won't recognise each other’s calls.”

Thankfully, between SANParks and the whale and dolphin tour operators, seals usually manage to find a “lift” home – however, occasionally, when no boats are heading to the Bird Island Marine Protected Area, Bayworld looks to the NSRI to assist.

“The only other options are to hand rear them and keep them in captivity, or to euthanise them, so – us being the softies that we are – we use it as a training session and take the little fellas back to their moms,” says Justin. “They do sometimes get confused and swim right back to the boat, but with a little coaching they make their way to the rock.”

According to Bayworld, Cape fur seal haulouts (areas above water where seals reproduce and rest) are found along the southern African coast from Baia dos Tigres in Angola to Algoa Bay. In the past, Cape fur seals bred on all the islands and offshore rocks in Algoa Bay and the population was 20 times larger than it is today. Numbers were dramatically reduced by sealing and today Cape fur seals in Algoa Bay are only found on the “black rocks” within the Bird Island Marine Protected Area. Some 800 pups are born here per year. However, elsewhere, Cape fur seals have recovered from exploitation. The total population is around two million and has been stable for the last 20 years. Current threats include interactions with fisheries, marine pollution and climate change.

If you find a seal in distress on a beach:

● Do not throw water over it

● Do not chase it back into the water

● Keep dogs away from the seal

● Do not approach or try to touch the seal

● Contact the Cape of Good Hope SPCA on 021 700 4158/9 / 083 326 1604 (a/h)

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