Frequently asked questions
Why don’t you use drones to locate entanglements and create videos?
We do indeed make use of drones. Primarily for surveying colonies and assessing extremely technical rescues but locating an entangled seal which was spotted by the drone is just as difficult as using our regular spotting equipment. Due to current local laws, it is extremely hard to get the appropriate permits for posting content produced from drones.
Why not feed them fish? Surely they would be easier to handle?
Having wild animals associating humans with food hardly ever ends well for the animal.
These are wild seals who are naturally weary of dead food that they find in the wild and would have to be trained to except dead fish from us.
Does anybody pick up the dead seals?
The dead bodies are a vital part of the local ecosystem. Many of the local scavenger species coincide their breeding and depend on the food source.
Are you putting the seals at risk by chasing them into the sea during rescues?
No. Our seals do not have predators in the water, they are at the top of the food chanin. We do not have Orca or Great White Shark in Namibia. It is a completely normal reaction for the seals to rush into the sea in mass when spooked or threatened. The only time it poses any real risk is when the pups are too young to go into the ocean shortly after being born. We avoid any groups with pups for those few weeks just for this reason.
Do seals have any predators in the water in Namibia?
Just human beings. There are no natural predators for seals in Namibia. Even Orcas that frequent this area once or twice a year are not hunting our seals.
Why do you sometimes collect fur samples?
During rescues, we collect small pieces of fur from our rescued animals for the Namibian Dolphin Project and marine biologists from France. They are conducting studies about stress hormone levels in entangled seals, and they also need DNA to determine genetic differences between different colonies of seals. It’s the best way to find out how far our seals travel and mate. Cape Fur Seals are spread over an area of roughly 3000km of coastline and very little is known about their genetics. The sampling does not hurt the animals at all, but we stopped collecting whisker samples when Naude got bitten last year
Why don’t you use any medicine on the injured seals?
We have been advised by leading seal specialists that unless we are able to keep the seal in a sanctuary for recovery we should avoid putting medicine on the wound. The animal goes straight into the water as soon as we release it, washing off any topical cream and water resistant spray may lock in bacteria. The salty sea water acts as a very effective wound cleaner luckily and the seals heal remarkably fast.
Why don't you use a muzzle?
Nearly every seal would require a different size muzzle, and we would have to use our hands to slip the muzzle on over its mouth, it would take extra time to prep the animal for the rescue and there would be the scary chance of the seal escaping before we were able to remove it.
How many kilos of plastic do you think you remove off the seals in a year?
We don't know. The total weight is probably not much, because most of our entanglements are small pieces of fishing line. Even tiny loops of lightweight fishing line can kill fully grown seals.
Why are there so many dead seals on the beach?
There aren't! Most of them are simply fast asleep and don't wake up even if you had to poke them. Dead seals get immediately eaten by jackals and birds. With such a large colony as in Namibia there are always going to be a number of natural occurring deaths and by default dead bodies, but you barely ever get to see them, because they are somebody else's lunch.
Are there scavengers around who eat the dead seals?
Yes! There are many jackals, seagulls and even brown hyena who depend on dead seals as source of food. They time the birth of their own young to coincide with the breeding season of the seals when there are often dead pups.
Does OCN ever check out the dead seals to see what they died of?
Unfirtunately not. We would love to have the time and resources to do just that, but as so many deaths are simply just normal fatalities and it would be a very expensive full time exercise, we stick to trying to rescue all the living seals we can.
Do seals suffocate when you sit on them?
From a near infant age the baby seals are tough enough to handle full grown seals walking, sometimes charging over them and once they are sub adults their bodies can withstand unimaginable pressure from diving to extraordinary depths. The pressure we put on them during rescues is uncomfortable at best, but poses no risk to them at all.
What happens with the entanglement after the rescue?
We keep the entanglement for further research. Of course we would never leave trash on the beach. We take a photo of each individual entanglement on the sand straight after the rescue with details of the rescue for our files. We collect everything we remove from the seals as well as any trash we find on the beach whether it poses a threat to the seals or not.
Why do you have a bird leg in the car?
It is from a pale chanting goshawk that we found in the desert 12 years ago. It meant a lot to a dear friend who passed away earlier this year. It has become somewhat of a talisman now.
Do seals ever realise that you want to help them?
Probably not. They sometimes stop fighting the rescuers out of shock. They do seem to feel relief once a tight entanglement has been cut, they can breathe again, and that feeling m ight distract them. Rescues are strefssful for an already stressed out animal, but unfortunately there is no better way.
We never see a pelican in your videos. Why is this location than called 'Pelican Point"?
The peninsula at Walvis Bay was named long before the seals started using it as a colony. There are lots of Pelicans in Walvis Bay, sometimes at Pelican Point. We have done rehab for Pelicans before.
Why can't you find a better system for the zipper?
We use of bees wax on the zipper, but due to sand and seal fur, it often snangs. Once we have cut off all entanglements, the seal inside the net can relax and expand its body, and the rescue net ends up much tighter with a lot of extra pressure on the zipper. We have tried different systems, but it seems that we will simply have to deal with zipper issues sometimes.
Why do so many seals get entangled in the first place?
We do not believe that seal entanglements are caused on purpose by human beings, only by negligence. Seals are very playful and play with anything they can find, like children. They investigate everything they can find with their mouths and whiskers. Due to the seal's body shape, anything draped over the head too large to fit over their shoulders ends up stuck just there.
Fishing gear is designed to be invisible under water, making it even more likely to end up on a seal or other marine animal.
Their fur is also extremely dense and facing back towards their tail to make them more streamlined in the water which also prevents entanglements from easily traveling back up and over the seals head again.
How do you spot an entanglement? It seems impossible!
With good binoculars, amazing team work, lots of experience, and a lot of luck.There are normally at least 3 rescuers scanning the same group of seals. Sometimes it is the body language of the seal that first catches our attention, often an entangled seal is very wary and skittish, presumably due to being in pain and unable to free itself of the entanglement. Sometimes it is the sunlight catching the tiny thread poking out from its neck.
Once we have all focused on the seal and agreed that we believe there to be an entanglement one of us doesn't take their eyes off of it while the others prepare for the rescue. We often lose track of an individual in a large group of fleeing seals, but in most cases at least one person is able to guide the one with the net if need be.
Do you ever euthanise a seal?
No. We are not veterinarians. We do not have the permission, knowledge or the means to put an animal out of its misery. We try our best to remove the entanglement, but sometimes there are cases where the outcome might not be good.
Why do you somtimes use the hook and not the rescue scissors?
Scissors need a bigger gap than the hook. If the entanglement is too tight, we don’t have any space underneath to fit the scissors. We would have to pull very hard on the entanglement to get a gap large enough to fit the scissors in, this could cut into the animal even deeper through an artery, nerve or even ligament. To keep it short: the hook does less damage in some situations.
Why do you idle your car so often? Why can't you switch it off?
We forget. We drive and stop continuously while trying to spot entangled seals within a colony. We will stop the vehicle and get out for a better vantage point and if we don't spot anything jump back in and move on quickly as we have a great deal of ground to cover before the conditions deteriorate. Occasionally we spot a seal that is either on its way to the ocean or about to be spooked by others disturbed by the car. Depending where we are standing, we might simply be in a massive rush and forget to turn the engine off.