Seal Entanglement Not So Sweet

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The Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department responded to an adult Cape fur seal with a neck entanglement, that was not the usual kind they see…

Being a “harbour seal” exposes you to a life of easy food (fish scraps), and fast dangers. Discarded fishing gear (hooks, lines and sinkers), plastic wrapping from boxes, and other floating marine debris (eg plastic bags), are there to be avoided but are often unavoidable as you go about your seal day.

This week, our wildlife department was alerted to a big adult male seal (known as Brutus), a resident seal at the Kalk Bay harbour, who showed up wearing a new neck “adornment”. Wildlife Department Supervisor Jon Friedman went to have a look and was surprised at the entanglement he saw around the seal’s neck. “This appeared to be something new; not the usual fishing gut or plastic box binding we find ensnaring seals,” describes Jon. A piece of shaped plastic was all that could be seen from the outside as the binding it was tied to was already embedding itself into the seal’s thick neck blubber.

Kalk Bay’s harbour seals are huge, old, very grumpy, very strong and dangerous to tangle with but left unchecked, an ensnarement can quickly become a life-threatening deal to a seal.

Approached while still in his morning slumber in the sun on the harbour pier, a quick movement was required to get our seal hook under the line to cut it before annoying the sleeping seal. Sensing disturbance, Brutus opened a wary eye and regarded his “helper” with disdain but also seemed to understand what the objective was here. He drew himself up on his fore-flippers and yawned a big yawn, exposing the entanglement that was now noted to be already cutting into his flesh.

The plastic shape of the item provided a handy hoop through which to snag the cutting hook and in a swift movement, the line snapped free and the entanglement slipped off. Examining it, the item appeared to be the string and the plastic base of a children’s sucking dummy sweet; no less a danger to marine life than fishing lined or plastic binding and a reminder to us all that anything with a hoop shape that is discarded into nature presents a possible ensnarement risk to a wild animal. It is for this reason that we urge all consumers to snap the hoops on things like plastic bottle tops, box bindings, and even the necklace of a child’s sweet (once it is finished, of course), before disposing of it responsibly in the nearest rubbish bin.

The SPCA urges all harbour visitors and harbour businesses to please enjoy these vital recreational areas responsibly, to dispose of hooped items, plastic packaging, fishing line and used fishing hooks in bins provided, especially on windy day where it can otherwise be blown into the sea.


If you come across any wild animal in need of rescuing, please contact the Cape of Good Hope SPCA on 0833261604 or 0217004158/9, alternatively email inspectorate@spca-ct.co.za.

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