Seal Unhooked

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One of the greatest threats facing marine wildlife is discarded fishing gear.

When our Wildlife Department was alerted to a baby seal entangled in fishing line at Kalk Bay Harbour, we grabbed our line cutters and headed to the rescue.

On arrival, Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Officer Jon Friedman found the seal pup lying just out of the water – but snuggled up right next to a large adult bull seal.

He was shocked to discover that not only did the seal pup have what looked to be meters of plastic fishing wrapped around its waist and flippers, but it had numerous fishing hooks embedded in different places on its small body. It was clear that this wasn’t just one piece of line with one hook, but several pieces of line with several hooks!

The animal was clearly in great discomfort and pain; wincing and trembling as the hooks cut deeper into its flesh with every small move it made.

Jon counted at least seven hooks in total.
Jon counted at least seven hooks in total
Edging along the narrow harbour wall, Jon was able to position a net between the yearling and the bull, eventually coaxing the larger seal to go for a cooling dip in the sea, allowing him to work unhindered, for at least a few minutes before the adult returned to resume its nap. With the youngster safely restrained beneath a wet towel and having to be mindful of its sharp teeth and powerful jaws that could deliver a bone-crushing bite (even at its young age), Jon counted at least seven hooks in total. The larger hooks would have to be cut and removed first as these could do the most damage to the wriggling seal pup.

With one hand restraining the seal’s head to avoid being bitten, Jon had to trace the mess of individual lines to find their hooked ends – all with one hand. Finding the hook and the best way to remove it without causing any more damage to the seal, or becoming hooked himself, Jon worked quickly, carefully removing each hook until only one piece of line remained.

As Jon followed the last line into the seal’s mouth, he hoped to find its hook embedded in the lip -an easy removal – but his heart sank as he saw the line disappear down the seal’s throat … a swallowed hook!

This one would need an x-ray to locate and a visit to the SPCA animal hospital to fix.


Carrying the seal pup in his net back across the harbour wall, with a sea of gathered hands now willing to help, the seal was coaxed into a carry crate and on her way to the SPCA hospital.

Sedated, the seal pup was x-rayed to determine the position of the hook. Fortunately it was in the best position possible and not too far down the throat as to be inoperable. With help from the veterinary nurse on duty and hospital staff, the hook was gently coaxed up and out of the throat, finally leaving this seal pup free to be returned to her harbour without any hooks.

Cape of Good Hope SPCA - Seal Hook article 2022.10 2
Fortunately the hook was in the best position possible and not too far down the throat as to be inoperable.

Did you know?

  • • Thrown away, lost or discarded fishing gear is known as “ghost gear”.
  • • Ghost gear is the single most harmful form of marine litter.
  • • As much as 2% of all fishing gear used globally every year ends up in the sea as ghost gear.
  • • Plastic monofilament fishing line can take 600 years to degrade in the ocean.

Another successful rescue by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA’s wonderful Wildlife Department!

Video of the Seal's Release

Here are a few things you should know about seals before you approach them.

One of the greatest threats facing marine wildlife is discarded fishing gear

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