The nightmarish vision that the beaches of Pelican Point in Central Namibia reveal seems unreal. More than 7,000 dead Cape fur seals were pushed ashore in Walvis Bay, near a well-known seal breeding colony and a school of dolphins. Naude Dreyer, a marine biologist from Ocean Conservation Namibia, has closely monitored the zone with a drone and tweeted the frightening image of the lifeless bodies in mid-October. Today, as this distressing photograph is touring the world, the death of those thousands of ‘dogs of the ocean’ remains an unfolded mystery. However, many experts took up the disaster and an investigation is underway at the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. As the case ignites globally, the scientific community begins to understand what is brewing in those waters—human activity disturbs the ecosystem of the ocean and this pollution brings seals to starvation.
Cape fur seals “will often desert their young or abort their fetuses if there is a dearth of food around,” says Maya Oppenheim from The Independent. Indeed, Dr. Tess Gridley director of the Namibian Dolphin Project, explains how female seals were “thin-looking, emaciated, with very little fat reserves” and that “this year there has been an increase in abortions that was first seen starting in August and really sort of peaked just last week in October.” In fact, she estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 female seals gave birth to dead pups. Whilst the colony is currently home to 50,000 seals, November and December would have been the birth months of thousands of new inhabitants. Dreyer sounds the alarm by pointing out that there was also an abnormal spike in the number of dead adult females. “It could be that warm currents that normally bring in the fish are still too far out, and these mothers just don’t have the range to get out to the fishing grounds,” discloses Simon Elwen from the Namibian Dolphin Project, trying to unravel the enigma behind this catastrophe. Pollutants, toxins, and bacterial infections are also amongst the main suspects.
Conservationists specify that they do not have formal rehabilitation facilities in Namibia and that when seals suffer from acute poor nutrition, bringing them back is truly problematic and laborious, almost impossible. Thus, in order to cover in general the health of seals within those breeding colonies, funds should be invested to improve the quality of the supervision of those zones and sustainable monitoring infrastructures should be put in place. Fishing and wastes in the oceans are the forever principal enemies of seals, who get caught up in fishing lines and plastic strings. Here, the problem is much broader, waters may become unfriendly to seals in the long-term and human activity in those waters might have to be completely reassessed. Neighboring colonies are also at risk. Waiting for the definitive answer that scientific research will bring, Namibia is unfortunately tangled up in other overwhelming domestic political and social crises and would need exogenous aid at all levels to accomplish a change.
This mass die-off is the result of dramatic climatic changes occurring in oceans. In 1994, approximately 10,000 seals died causing the miscarriage of 15,000 fetuses. This event, also connected to starvation, was caused by a dramatic shortage of fish as well as bacterial infection at another breeding colony.
“But one issue that we do think might happen in the future is you will see a dip in reproduction potentially going forward particularly now for those animals that have unfortunately died,” sadly announces Dr. Gridley, urging immediate action.
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