Why Namibia's Seal Pup Cull is the Cruelest, and Must be Stopped

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Why Namibia's Seal Pup Cull is the Cruelest, and Must be Stopped

From Hugo Francois, Seal Alert South Africa

Like the US and EU Seal product import bans have stated, clubbing to death of any wild seal species in the wild is cruel and inhumane. Many equally feel the larger the number of seals clubbed to death the greater the obvious cruelty.

The recent EU all seal species import product ban looked primarily at the point of killing. Had the EU examined each species more deeply, it would have found Namibia's seal pup cull the cruellest on earth.

There is a distinct difference between the Canadian Seal Hunt and the Namibian Seal Cull. A cull by definition seeks to destroy a seal population by reducing it. A hunt on the otherhand is more selective and driven by commercial exploitation. A cull therefore effects the species, whereas a hunt, the individual animal.

The Cape fur seals are listed as an endangered species by the United Nations - Convention in Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to which 173 countries are signatory to, whereas the harp seals are not considered endangered.

Namibia's seal cull starts on 1 July 2009, and involves 85 000 pups and 6000 bulls.

Approximately 5,5 million Harp seals, a true seal species, which spends most of its life at sea, like a fish, are found living in the arctic waters. In March, 1,4 million harp seal cows migrate south to the recently formed ice floes, to give birth. The ice floes off Canada then become a seal pup nursery and not a year round breeding seal colony . Where 1,4 million cows give birth to 1,4 million pups. Canadian DFO then awards a sealing quota of 320 000. Approximately 23 percent of the pups born. Sealers then have to wait, until most of the pups have been weaned and there is about a 3 percent mortality within this period. Weaning takes place after the seal pup is born, it suckles on its mother, for 21 days trebling its weight to 40kg, and is then abandoned by the cow and left to complete its moult, living off its own fat reserves and learning to leave the ice to hunt before migrating north. It is at this point, that sealers are then permitted to go out and hunt the seal pups. As these seal pups are spread out over a vast distance on shifting ice floes, sealers use boats to reach the pups. If the pup is disturbed by the sealing activity and escapes it can survive, as it does not need to return to the ice floe and is weaned. According to DFO, sealers can club or shoot the pups. 10 percent of the pups are clubbed and the remaining 90 percent is shot, as it appears, the seal pups are killed easier via shooting each pup on an ice floe, from a distance. The hunt or the quota is divided into two sections or two different hunts. The first hunt is normally over within three weeks, occurs in the Gulf of St Lawrence and involves mostly pups. After this, the balance of the quota, which can be substantial is applied to harp seals of all age groups, and the hunt takes place further north in the Front, as it is by then, that all the seal pups have left the ice floes and migrated north. The hunt therefore effects the 1,4 million pups for 3 weeks after weaning, and not the 5,5 million harp seals as a species.

The sealing countries of Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway agreed that killing the nursing seal pups until weaned, to be cruel, and banned the practice in their sealing regulations in 1987.

The Cape fur seals of Namibia, are an entirely different seal species. Fur seals, are less evolved than true seals like the Harp seal. What this means is that Cape fur seals require a permanent seal colony on land, all year round, to give birth, to mate, to rest, to moult and to raise their pups over the next 12 months. And, from which they can go out and hunt each day, before returning to the colony. Their preferred breeding colonies are therefore the 11 offshore islands in Namibia, but due to intense sealing in the past, seals were forced to flee and migrate away from these island colonies. It is this very fact, which makes the Namibian seal cull so cruel, as sealing effects the entire seal population in the colony via massive disturbance for 139 days of each year. The result of this annual disturbance, forces the seal population to continually flee their established seal colonies to find new safer, undisturbed seal colonies. In 2006, 97 percent of the seals former colonies on islands remained extinct, and instead seals had colonized 26 breeding colonies along Namibia's 1650km desert coastline, and on three of these colonies, 60 percent of the seal pups were born. The three mainland colonies of Wolf, Atlas and Cape Cross produced 120 000 seal pups collectively born in December.

There can be no doubt that this method of culling seals causes permanent species extinction. Already 97 percent of the former seal colonies that were on islands have gone extinct off Namibia. And, no doubt during those sealing activities at the time government would have disputed it, until it was too late. Namibia's largest seal colony at Cape Cross already collapsed completely in August 2007, it is only a matter of time with this current method before the species ceases to exist.

Unlike the Harp seal pups who get weaned after 21 days, the Cape fur seal pups will suckle from their mothers for the next 12 months, before weaning. Bonding between cow and her pup is therefore intense. Cows nurse their pups for 2 days, and then leave the vulnerable unattended pup for 5 days to hunt continuing this cycle throughout the year. The 120 000 seal pups are then subjected to unnatural predation from jackals, where 1 in 4 pups are killed and torn to pieces by Jackals living on the mainland. According to Namibian scientists, 44% of the pups born, will during the course of the next several months, before sealing starts on 1 July, die from either jackal predation, starvation or abandonment. The 67 000 surviving seal pups, who weigh less than 15 kg, of the original 120 000, all still nursing, unable to hunt or eat solids, still reliant upon nursing, together with the cows, and the whole seal colony of all age groups, are then subjected to Namibia's annual sealing quota of 85 000 pups and 6000 bulls.

Unlike the Canadian seal hunt where 23% of the pups are effected. Namibia's seal pup quota of 85 000, actually exceeds by 18 000, the number of pups still alive by 1 July and therefore kills all surviving seal pups in the colony.

For the next 139 days, sealers will invade the entire seal colony, and forcibly round up and herd together pups and cows. Disturbing the entire seal colony each day. A seal colony, which primarily uses the night-time to forage and the day-light to warm up, regain strength and rest. Most seals, particularly cows are returning from hunting, when sealers arrive. Whilst the entire colony is forced to flee the sealers each morning between 5am and 9am, escaping towards the sea. Giving many returning seals from a hunt, no rest. The cows and their pups, will be forced away from the safety of the seal colony, and prevented from escaping into the sea, by being driven in-land and held in terrified groups. Where numerous seal pups die in shock, or from heat or suffocation trapped under the terrified herd. Approximately 25 seal clubbers then attempt to club the seal pups with their escaping mothers, to reach their 85 000 seal pup quota.

Due to the massive disturbance to the whole seal colony, sealers are only able to kill 500 - 1000 seal pups, before the entire seal colony has fled and escaped into the sea. At this moment many seals of all age groups permanently abandon the colony, and attempt to find a safer colony elsewhere. Cows abandon many of their pups, who even if they escaped have therefore lost their natal colony, are unable to return, or to hunt or catch their own fish, slowly over the coming weeks move along the coastline dying from starvation. The beaches become littered with dead pups.

The next day, the sealers arrive, and the whole process is repeated. It continues in this way, until either the 85 000 pup quota is reached or the entire colony has permanently fled or collapsed.

So regardless of the cruelty associated in the "kill zone", the very presence of sealers in the breeding seal colony for 139 days causes immense side-effects to the health and conservation of the colony, and has numerous by-product cruelty related issues. As the quota involves 60 percent of the breeding population, the species as well.

Unlike the northern hemisphere sealing countries, which ban killing a nursing seal pup and allows seal pups after weaning to be shot. Namibian sealing regulations require that sealers may only club the seal pups. No shooting of pups is allowed.

So whereas Canada's 320 000 sealing quota, will involve 10 percent or 32 000 pups being clubbed, Namibia will club all the surviving 67 000 pups in an attempt to reach the 85 000 pup quota.

In addition, sealers are given a quota to shoot 6000 bulls for their genitals, and an unknown number of permits is given to trophy hunters to shoot bull seals with rifles or bow & arrows, for sport or trophies. In addition, 100 000 tourists are permitted to visit these sealing colonies after the clubbing has ended each morning, when the seal colony is then opened to paying tourists at 10am.

It is for these reasons, that the Namibian seal hunt is the cruelest in the world, and on 1 July 2009, will become the world's largest, as Canadian sealers this year killed 60 000.

It is time international efforts are brought severely down on Namibia and its two sealing rights holders.

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