Cape Fur Seal

This is the species with which we are particularly concerned with and as such are able to provide you with additional information. We would like to particularly thank Francois Hugo, world renowned authority on Cape Fur Seals and founder of Seal Alert SA for much of the information provided.

Cape Fur Seals (Arctocephalus Pusillus Pusillus) can be found on the coastlines of southern Africa. They are listed on Appendix II of CITES. They have a natural mortality rate of around 30% and are at threat from a 90% loss of preferred habitat, entanglement, drowning in fisheries nets, marine pollution, disease, global warming and the continued persecution by the annual Namibian “cull.” The Benguela Nino in 2006 resulted in the deaths of over 300 THOUSAND of these animals, the largest mass die-off of all marine mammals in recorded history. Although these are wild animals, they are generally friendly and curious by nature.

Brown Fur seal, Australian fur seal, Arctocephalus Pusillus, Namibian fur seal, South African Fur Seal, fur seal

Cape Fur Seal, photo taken in Namibia

BREEDING

Traditionally, Cape Fur Seals (also known as Brown Fur Seals or Namibian Fur Seals) were known to breed exclusively on small rocky off-shore islands. They were hunted and persecuted to such an extent that many of these preferred islands are now devoid of any seals. In fact, Robben Island, a historically significant breeding ground (which translates from Dutch meaning “Seal Island”) and home to famous Apartheid era political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma, has no seals on it today.

Habitat loss

Historically an important breeding site, this island is now devoid of seals

The Namibian Government actually went so far as to employ people to deliberately chase any seals wanting to breed off these small islands. The reason for this is that if the seals were forced onto the mainland to breed, it would be easier and cheaper for them to be slaughtered.

habitat loss

Paid by the Namibian Government to chase seals off preferred sites

Having been forced onto land, today the largest (unnatural) Cape Fur Seal rookery on earth is at Cape Cross, Atlas Bay and Wolf Bay in Namibia. Here these animals fall prey to Brown Hyena and Jackals alike. This puts them at risk from Rabies and Distemper, against which they have no natural immunity.

Although a large number of seals regularly haul out at Cape Frio, near the Namibia/Angola border, they do so as refugees from the Namibian seal cull and do not form a breeding colony. These seals do not belong in tropical waters and as a result of the Namibian slaughter are putting pressure on tropical fish stocks, which do not form part of their natural diet.

Seals at Cape Frio, South West Africa, Angola

Cape Frio, seals haul out here as refugees from the Namibian seal hunt

Adult bulls will be the first to arrive at the breeding sites, which they do so during late October. Here they will fight for territory before the females come on shore. The dominant males, known as “Beach Masters” will secure as much turf as possible, allowing them to mate with the picky females who chose their suitors according to how much space they can secure. These territories, which are maintained for around six weeks, may contain a harem of females numbering anything from seven to thirty.

Peak birthing occurs during the height of summer, from early November through till late December. Pups are born with a blackish coat which they moult when they are around three months old. They weigh on average 5.5 kg at birth and measure around 70cm in length. Male pups tend to be slightly heavier and longer.

Females will mate around a week after giving birth, and have a gestation period of around 11 months. She remains with her off-spring for the first 7-10 days, nursing it on a diet of high fat content milk. She then begins a cycle of spending 3-4 days out at sea foraging before returning to land to spend 2-3 days with her pup (which she is able to locate out of thousands by its smell.)

Cape Fur Seal and pup

A pup suckles from its mother

As with the Guadalupe Fur Seal, the weaning process is a lengthy one and takes on average between 8 and 10 months. The Namibia seal cull is made all the more heinous in that the majority of the animals targeted are pups that are still nursing from the teat, only seven months old and very dependent on their mothers.

Out of a quota of 86 thousand, 80 thousand are still suckling babies and are not even eating solids. How can the Namibian government continue to lie that these seals are responsible for eating the fish, when they don’t begin to eat solids until they are nearly 10 months old? These babies are beaten to death because their soft pelts are more valuable.

irresponsible resource management from Namibia

Namibia seal slaughter. Sustainable?

Adult males, who are generally darker than females and sport a thick “mane,” reach sexual maturity when they are 4-6 years but will only get territorial status between 10 and 13 years old. They can weigh anything between 280-350kg and grow to a length of around 2m. Females tend to be much smaller, weighing between 40-110kg and measure between 1.2m and 1.7m. Females reach sexual maturity at around 3-4 years. They can live for around 25 years.

INTERESTING STUFF

The diet of Cape Fur Seals consists of only 30% of what commercial fisheries are harvesting, namely hake and sardine. The balance is made up from a variety of what the fishing industry considers “by-catch” (fish that is either undersized or not targeted. Most fisheries operations DISCARD by-catches by throwing the dead fish back into the oceans) These seals enjoy eating crustaceans and the occasional African Penguin has also been known to make a dainty snack.

Cape Fur Seals can hold their breath for over 10 minutes and can dive to a depth of around 400m. Though clumsy on land, they are exceptionally graceful in water and are strong swimmers.

Cape Fur Seal (Arctocephalus Pusillus Pusillus) swimming in the sea off Hout Bay, South Africa

Cape Fur Seal swimming

They can spend as much as 30% of their time out to sea. A thick layer of blubber and a double layer of coarse fur protect this species from the chilly waters of the Benguela Current.

In September of 2011, a Cape Fur Seal helped save a British tourist from a shark attack. This is of particular interest, as sharks will readily prey on Cape Fur seals. The incident was widely reported in the international media.

South Africa ended its seal culling program in 1990, due to the inherent cruelty associated with the slaughter. The local fisheries were concerned that the move would have a detrimental effect on fish stocks. However, well managed resources have seen positive growth for the industry. Sadly, fishermen continue to illegally shoot these seals.

Seals surfing a wave, Chris Fallows photography, Apex Predators

Seals surfing a wave, Chris Fallows photography

Namibia was also advised by the sealing commission to end their seal culling policy at the same time as South Africa. However, they continue to this day, refusing to be dictated to by foreign countries. Each year, despite declining seal populations and without any scientific backing, Bernard Esau, the Namibian Minister of Fisheries, continues to increase the cull quotas.

In September of 2011, Francois Hugo of Seal Alert SA managed to arrange a meeting in Windhoek, Namibia between numerous stakeholders (including ourselves) to make representation to the Namibian Ombudsman concerning the legalities of the annual Namibian seal cull. You can download our presentation HERE