As “seal season” sets in, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA answers numerous calls a day about seals hauling themselves out on beaches along our coastline in weakened and malnourished states and while certainly many of the seals you are likely to see on our beaches at this time of year are a little thin, that isn’t their only condition –plastic pollution remains an ever-present danger.
As more and more people flock to the cool waters of our sun-kissed, powder-sand beaches in the heat of summer, it is inevitable that any marine wildlife encountered down on the beach will be subject to curious stares, some screams, and a lot of selfies! While most marine creatures can return themselves back to the water when it all gets a bit much being on dry land, wildlife that is sick or injured might be less mobile, but will hopefully be reported to us for immediate attention nonetheless.
So it was for one particular Cape fur seal on Strand Beach who found itself wearing a choking length of monofilament (fishing line) as a necklace that was definitely not of its choosing.
Concerned beachgoers, who noticed the seal acting strangely while clearly in some discomfort and a lot of distress, contacted our emergency response number to report it.
City of Cape Town Law Enforcement officers were dispatched to the beach to keep onlookers and any off-leash dogs at bay until the SPCA could arrive.
SPCA Inspector Werner Taljaard, no stranger to seal rescues during his many years of service at the SPCA, was off duty at the time but he was also our closest contact so he made his way to the beach while back at base trainee Inspector Nkosi Sindiwe grabbed his biggest-sized net and also made his way there.
Arriving at the beach, they were both just in time to see the seal lumber off back into the water and quickly duck beneath the waves.
Hearing from the small crowd of people who had gathered to watch the rescue, the seal had a deeply embedded snare around its neck and it was evident this seal needed help if it was to survive.
The rescuers knew it would be a waiting game and so they got comfortable to await the seal’s return.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long as after just a few minutes in the water, tired and short of breath, the seal once again hauled out, just a few meters in front of where our inspectors waited!
They knew what had to be done, approaching the animal slowly but from different angles, one distracted the seal and blocked its passage back to the ocean while the other deftly placed a wet beach towel over its eyes, which immediately calmed the now bewildered creature.
They were then able to gently get the big capture net over the seal’s head to limit its movements and to keep from being bitten while they worked at removing the snare.
Seal bites can be as serious as a dog bite. With sharp, pointed front teeth, designed for holding and tearing the flesh of slippery fish and a full set of big, strong back molars capable of crushing hard mollusc shells and crustaceans (e.g. crabs) with ease, a seal’s teeth and powerful jaws can inflict significant damage on a human or small animal. In fact, an adult seal has the bite strength of four adult Doberman dogs, and they are known to carry a range of infectious bacteria in their mouths.
Wounds on ocean mammals, like seals, will heal quickly on their own. The combination of water and salt are an ideal wound cleanser, expelling any harmful bacteria from tissue cells via a process of osmosis.
The SPCA appeals to all beachgoers to remain a respectful distance from any wildlife encountered on beaches this summer.
Do not try and see if the animal needs help by attempting to touch it or chase it, rather call your nearest SPCA hotline for help and advice. Remember that a seal who feels threatened or is sick, will readily lunge out and bite in self-defence so rather keep clear and wait for experienced help to arrive.
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