Unfounded Rabies Reports in Seals

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Please Note:  There Has Been A Confirmed Diagnosis of Rabies in Seal.  Read More Here

On Sunday, 26 May 2024 a juvenile Cape Fur Seal bit several surfers participating in a longboard surfing competition at the eastern end of Muizenberg. While no serious injuries were reported, this incident has raised concerns about the health and behaviour of local seals. Unconfirmed reports of Canine Rabies, following a bite from a seal on Noordhoek beach have also resulted in widespread speculation.

Post Mortem Examination of the Juvenile Cape Fur Seal

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Department collected the remains of the seal involved in the attacks in Muizenberg and a comprehensive post-mortem was conducted on Monday 27th May 2024. Preliminary findings of the post mortem carried out by Sea Search researchers and an independent veterinarian, Dr Luca Mendes, with permission from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) indicated the following:

Nutritional Health: The seal was nutritionally healthy, weighing 16 kg with a 13 mm fat layer.
Neck Examination: There was no significant damage to the neck or evidence of blood restriction to the head, ruling out strangulation as a cause of death.
Blunt Force Trauma: Significant bruising and severe subdural brain hemorrhage was present, indicating blunt force trauma to the head as a likely cause of death. This trauma could’ve been caused by either a surfboard or another incident on the beach.

The post-mortem also included tests for pollutants and following recent social media allegations, tests for Rabies. These outcomes are still pending.

The SPCA has initiated an enquiry with the State Vet in order to confirm the Canine Rabies diagnosis from the Noordhoek area and if confirmed, the origin thereof. FIDSSA (Federation of Infectious Diseases of Southern Africa) reports only one case of Rabies in a seal internationally, making a Rabies diagnosis in seals extremely rare. It is highly unlikely that Rabies is present in our local seal population.

General Advisory

Beachgoers and coastal users are reminded that seals are natural predators and interactions between seals and humans, although rare, can occur. The CoGH SPCA, City Authorities, DFFE, Two Oceans Aquarium and researchers are collectively investigating these incidents in an attempt to understand the reasons behind them. The SPCA can be contacted on 0217004158/9 in the event of any seal emergencies.

Conclusion

Maintaining caution around wild animals is always advisable in the interests of both human and animal wellbeing. Please rely on reliable resources for information and avoid circulating information that is speculative or unconfirmed by these sources. It is irresponsible to spread unconfirmed information which puts our seals at risk of harm and causes unnecessary panic. 

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