'Stupid' Namibian Sealing Industry 'Out of Control'

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'Stupid' Namibian Sealing Industry 'Out of Control'

By Francois Hugo, Seal Alert South Africa
June 2010

On Thursday Namibia's annual seal pup cull at Cape Cross and Wolf/Atlas Bay will begin again, whilst South Africa hosts the FIFA world soccer event. All CITES listed endangered surviving seal pups in the colony will be clubbed to death.

Only the non-fish eating, suckling milk-drinking baby seal pups are harvested.

To protect commercial fisheries, all fish eating seals older than one year are protected and exempt from the cull, including breeding cows, although government claims these fish eating seals eat more fish than fisheries.

Sealing industry also creates a massive 100 part-time jobs clubbing baby seal pups. Whilst risking the revenue generated from 100 000 tourists willing to pay to see seals protected in Namibia. Tourists pay USD $12 each to view seals protected in Namibia. Whilst one Turkish individual pays Namibian sealers USD $6 for exporting raw seal pup skins, and gives Minister's fur jackets to wear in a hot desert climate .

Just how stupid is the Namibian sealing industry? Well according to the Turkish importer he sells his seal skin jackets for USD $100 000, after paying the Namibian sealers USD $6 for the skins, because they cannot sew or process a seal skin into a fur jacket.

The last publicly released seal population survey was for December 2005. In July 2006, sealers and public reported a mass die-off of the seals. In October 2006, Ministry of Fisheries acknowledged the mass seal mortalities along the Namibian coast in which none of the seal pups were expected to survive this natural cull and were dying from starvation.

It is estimated this natural seal cull, the 7th since 1990, involved all the seal pups dying and half the adult seal population in Namibia.

Ignoring this natural seal cull, Namibia believes an annual human seal cull is also needed to conserve the seals . In July 2007, the Minister of Fisheries sought cabinet approval for 80 000 pups and 6000 bulls. Cabinet approved an annual rolling TAC for seals for 2007, 2008 and 2009. The Minister increased this to 85 000 seal pups.

Minister of Fisheries stated the 2010 and beyond seal harvesting season will go ahead, but has failed to seek cabinet approval for the seal quota for 2010 or release any scientific population data since 2005, pup mortality or any evidence scientifically requested by Seal Alert-SA's legal representative.

Minister Esau continues to maintain that the sealing regulations are humane and achieve an instantaneous death of seal pups. Although legal opinion states the regulations are unlawful and cruel.

Regulations require sealers to identify a group of seal pups. A sealer, known as a "clubber" must then strike a less than 1 year old seal pup, once on the head with a wooden pick-axe, allegedly killing it instantly. An inspector will then ascertain that the seal pup clubbed is dead. After which, another sealer, known as a "sticker" will pierce the heart of the already ascertained dead seal pup, to ensure a humane bleed-out and death.

Surely as the regulations state, if the seal pup clubbed is ascertained as dead by an inspector, why then the need to thereafter stab it in the heart, bleed it, to attain a humane instantaneous death. The regulations contradict itself.

Sealers at Cape Cross seal reserve are awarded a seal pup TAC of 50 000. Sealing season starts on 1 July and runs until 15 November.

Cape Cross Seal Reserve is Namibia's largest tourist attraction and one of the top ten attractions to see when visiting Namibia. According to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism website for Cape Cross (http://www.met.gov.na/dpwm/parkprof/Cape%20Cross/Cape%20Cross%20Brochure.pdf), this seal reserve is open to tourists from 08.00 - 17.00, between 16 November - 30 June.

Peak tourism season starts in July, and for some unexplained reason, on entrance bill-boards or MET website, the seal reserve is only open, 2 hours later, to tourists from 10.00 - 1700, between 1 July - 15 November. There is no explanation why Cape Cross opens 2 hours later in peak tourism season. Which incidentally is also the same period for Namibia's annual seal cull season.

On the Ministry of Environment and Tourism website it states Cape Cross Seal Reserve was established in 1968 to protect the largest breeding colony of Cape fur seals in the world, under "Environmental Care Code" it urges tourists "not to throw objects at the seals or remove any animal products" and its permit condition L state, "its unlawful to kill, disturb or injury any animal" and condition N states, "unlawful to mutilate or damage any object in the seal reserve".

Both of which is clearly a complete dishonest lie. Kleinsee seal colony in South Africa is the largest, and far from protecting this seal colony, allows the largest wildlife slaughter on the African continent.

Ministry of Environment and Tourism makes no mention of the seal harvest or cull, in anyway. Accompanying tour-guides tell visiting tourists who at times stand ankle deep in seal pup blood on the beach after the seal cull, are told that this is from a recent jackal kill.

Is the Minister and tourism industry hiding Namibia's seal cull, whilst rip-off charging tourists millions to view wild seals in a protected seal reserve?

The sun rises at 6.32 am at Cape Cross in July and the sealers must leave the seal reserve by 09.00 to avoid upsetting the tourists. Sealers have 2,5 hours to do the killing before tourists arrive. Daily disturbance by the sealers causes the seal colony to completely collapse by mid-August. Sealers therefore have less than 40 days to fill their 50 000 pup quota. Sealers if following the regulations and TAC must kill 1250 seal pups each morning, by rounding them up, club, ascertain death, stab in the heart, bleed out, drag to awaiting trucks, load the dead seals and leave the seal reserve by 09.00 via a concealed side entrance.

All very disturbing and hush, hush. Even filming and photographing the clubbing brings beatings, arrests and criminal charges to visiting tourists. Ministry goes out of its way to protect the sealers and not the seals or the tourists.

According to the regulations there is only one inspector during the seal harvest, whose job states, "the inspector overseeing the harvest must be satisfied that "a" pup which has been clubbed is dead". It is estimated it takes over an hour to identify, separate 1250 pups from a seal colony numbering 200 000 each morning, and round-up groups of these seal pups to begin the harvest. It is estimated that it takes a further 30 minutes, to count 1250 killed seal pups, drag them to awaiting trucks and then load them onto the trucks. 1,5 hours is taken before and after the actual harvest.

That leaves less than one hour each morning, for the sealers to implement the seal harvesting regulations, to physically club to death 1250 seal pups. One inspector must thereafter ascertain the death of each pup clubbed, the dead seals must then be stabbed in the heart and bleed out, and count the number of killed pups. It is estimated that if the inspector overseeing the harvest is doing his job as per the regulations, this activity will take about 2 minutes.

2 minutes to kill each seal pup, in the hour effectively used for killing. If the regulations are followed, the sealers will only be able to harvest 30 seal pups in the hour available. Less than 3 per cent of the daily TAC. Following the regulations sealers would average 2 500 seal pups killed for the season on a quota of 85 000. This would hardly be economically viable or support a part-time labour workforce.

Sealers cannot therefore implement the regulations or fill their quota. Knowing this the Minister has set a seal pup TAC since 2007 of 85 000 seal pups which is unreachable. Knowing further that in order to fill the seal pup TAC the sealers must flout the regulations and beat groups of seal pups cruelly until dead, repeatedly in mass. This becomes an offence under the Animal Protection Act as nobody is allowed to beat an animal to death.

The Namibian SPCA has undertaken to monitor this year's seal cull. Its lawful mandate is to prevent cruelty.

No doubt the Namibian sealers will stage an "SPCA controlled seal clubbing day" and thereafter for the remainder of the sealing season continue clubbing seals in mass until Cape Cross seal reserve collapses, and tourists who have been charged to see seals, have nothing to see..

Although N$9 million is earned from the 100 000 tourists visiting Cape Cross Seal Reserve after 10.00 am each year, the Minister of Fisheries does not view this as sustainable utilization of the seal resource. The Minister believes that only if seals are harvested and killed, then this is sustainable activity, and permits its use through sealing rights for a million seal pups to be killed until 2019.