Yesterday afternoon (31 July), members of the public contacted the NSRI when they discovered a Cape fur seal and what they then thought was a dead loggerhead sea turtle tangled in an abandoned fishing net that had washed up on Noordhoek Beach, near the wreck of the Kakapo. The NSRI got in touch with the Two Oceans Aquarium for assistance and advice about freeing the entangled seal, and as luck would have it, our Curator Maryke Musson was nearby and able to step in to assist.
When Maryke and the NSRI arrived on the scene, they were pleasantly surprised to find that turtle was alive too! Both animals were completely entangled in the net - a sure sign of the mighty struggle they put up trying to free themselves.
The NSRI team were able to use the whale disentanglement gear that they carry to begin freeing the seal. Initially, the seal struggled quite frantically (this must have been very scary for the poor animal), but it was clearly exhausted from its earlier attempts to free itself and eventually allowed the team to approach close enough to remove the last of the net.
The seal had no visible injuries and, much to everyone's delight, returned to the ocean of its own accord after being freed - the team saw it porpoising in the surf while they began work on freeing the turtle.
Because the turtle posed less of a risk to the team, they were able to get close and cut the net away with a knife. The team noticed blood on the sand, and several lacerations on the turtle from where the net had cut into it, so it was decided that the turtle be brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium for a veterinary examination by the Turtle Rescue Programme.
Turtles, like all reptiles, have very slow metabolisms and the effects of hypothermia and stress on the digestive system can be severe. This turtle was showing clear signs of the cold, which is why it will be under observation for a short while before being released.
However, we are cautiously optimistic. Its wounds seem largely superficial and although it has a lot of old injuries, there are no major external problems. Initial blood tests have shown that its glucose levels are good, and we will be getting results of more detailed blood tests shortly. Hopefully, we'll be able to release this one soon!
The NSRI rescuers decided to name this turtle "Anette" - a reminder of its rescue story.
Watch this space for updates about Anette's rehabilitation progress!
The dangers of ghost fishing gear
"Ghost fishing" is a term used to refer to abandoned or discarded fishing gear that continues to catch and kill sea creatures long after the end of its intended use - just like this net.
Both of these animals are incredibly lucky to be alive. Were it not for the mere chance that this net happened to wash up in a relatively short time, both animals would have drowned - in ideal conditions a calm seal can hold its breath for about 10 minutes, and a calm turtle up to 7 hours, but both these animals would have panicked, using their air much faster. Their survival odds were tiny and were it not for the stormy seas around Noordhoek, the net may not have washed up high enough or quickly enough for them to survive.
It was clear from the huge number of goose barnacles, crabs and other animals living on the net itself that it had been adrift at sea for quite some time. This floating ecosystem would have attracted the hungry loggerhead, and once ensnared, the thrashing turtle may have attracted the curious seal. If these animals had died in the net, their carcasses would have been a food source that may have lured other animals to their death. This is one of the biggest issues surrounding ghost fishing gear - they can potentially kill animals for decades on end.
How can you help?
If you come across an entangled or distressed animal on our coast, contact one of the organisations below. Remember that we all work together, so if you are unsure about who to contact, just get in touch with the conservation organisation nearest to you:
- Two Oceans Aquarium (turtles, seals and other marine animals): +27 21 418 3823 (you can also send us a photo and location via Facebook Messenger)
- NSRI (whales and dolphins): +27 21 449 3500
- SPCA Wildlife Unit (marine mammals): +27 21 700 4140 +27 83 326 1604 (after hours)
- SANCCOB (sea birds): +27 21 557 6155 or +27 78 638 373 (after hours)
Please always remember that these are wild animals and that, although you are trying to help, the animal may lash out in fear. Please do not approach, move or touch these animals without guidance.