Living in a city with a busy shipping infrastructure and harbours that are frequented by wildlife means we are always worried about things in the water that could be harmful to the myriad creatures of the sea.
Of all the pollutants we worry about the most – oil is the worst of them, so when we got a call this morning about a possible oil spill in Hout Bay harbour close to a resident colony of Cape fur seals, our Wildlife Unit sprang into action.
Formally trained in Oiled Wildlife Response, trainee inspector Bryan Arendse and Wildlife Officer Jon Friedman gathered up the resources required and headed to the Hout Bay Seal Rescue Centre where the confirmed signs of diesel boat oil were seen.
Chief Inspector Jaco Pieterse was first on the scene and quickly assessed the situation. The team from Spill Tech were on and in the water busy containing the diesel oil and mopping up the excess.
Over at the seals, it seemed as if two of the young, yearling seals were affected. Adult seals will generally know to avoid getting too close up to the oily, smelly stuff so we weren’t too worried about them but the babies haven’t yet learned to steer clear and were swimming through the toxic oil.
We requested help from SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) who arrived on the scene with the right soaps and Savlon and together we quickly got to work.
Diesel oil can be extremely caustic to exposed skin and even though seals have thick fur, their eyes, flippers, noses and tails are exposed.
Once the yearlings were corralled, cleaned and washed, they seemed happy to chill around the pool of the Rescue Centre recovering from their ordeal. The Seal Centre staff will keep a sharp eye out for any seals exhibiting signs of contamination or distress over the next few days, just in case.
Investigations are firmly underway to find the origin of the oil in the water and to make sure that those responsible for it are held liable under the Marine Living Resources Act 18 of 1998.