Seal Pup Gets Surgery to Swim Again

Over 1 metre of fishing line was removed from the wound

Contrary to popular belief, our work is not Government funded.

Hearts for Hope celebrates the collective power of animal loving hearts.

Cape fur seals that frequent our Cape Town harbours often find themselves caught up in discarded fishing line, bits of plastic box wrapping and all kinds of other floating debris and pollution. Getting called out to help disentangle seals of all sizes is nothing new to our inspectors, yet this particular case challenged even our Wildlife Department Supervisor, who it takes a lot to surprise.

A Kalk Bay harbour tour guide called the SPCA and reported seeing a young seal in distress; struggling to swim with some fishing line wrapped around one of his flippers, he had no use of the entangled limb at all. Wildlife Department Supervisor Jon Friedman was dispatched.

“I was expecting a routine disentanglement of fishing line but when we got the young seal out of the water and started cutting away the mess of line wrapped around his left-side flipper, it was quickly apparent that the line wasn’t only wrapped around the outside of the flipper but also deeply embedded inside the flipper as well, maybe anchored by a fishing hook to the bone, that I knew this wasn’t going to be a straightforward rescue.”

The discarded fishing line was embedded to the bone
Chief Inspector Jaco Pieterse with SPCA Head Veterinarian Dr Rivona Ramnanan with the sedated seal at our Animal Hospital

Bundling the young seal pup up in a blanket and a secure transport box, it was off to the SPCA Animal Hospital in Grassy Park for X-rays and possible surgery. On the theatre table, the attending veterinarians were puzzled.

“We had expected to find a fishing hook or two embedded below the skin but the X-rays showed no hooks, just lots of fishing line wrapped around the flipper (“shoulder”) joint”.

What probably happened, the vets surmised, was that the seal became entangled some time ago, the fishing line cutting deeply through the skin at the shoulder, working its way down to the bone. With time, the wound grew closed again, trapping the fishing line in place, eventually seizing the joint and limiting the seal’s movement. He would’ve certainly starved as he would not have been able to hunt properly. 

Some delicate surgery ensued to trace the embedded line and release it, without damaging any of the bones it was wound around.
The skilled hands of Dr Ramnanan at work
Over 1 metre of fishing line was removed from the wound

After almost an hour, a total of a meter and a half of fishing line was carefully removed. The wound was thoroughly cleaned and the young seal was given a course of antibiotics, vitamins, probiotics, pain meds, good food and warm rest. A week later, having regained movement in the flipper, he was ready to go home.

Discarded fishing gear remains a significant threat to all marine life, not only in harbours but wherever recreational fishing takes place. The SPCA urges all fishermen to please enjoy their pastime responsibly and to take their discarded fishing tackle with them again when they go home or to dispose of it properly in bins, not throwing it in the sea where it could well become a life-threatening problem for a host of other marine wildlife.       

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department responds to all cases of injured wildlife. If you come across any wild animal in need of rescuing, please contact the Cape of Good Hope SPCA on 0217004140 or email  

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Cape of Good Hope SPCA - Stories of Hope