Many of the seals in the harbour have straps or nooses cutting into their necks. If left unattended, the nooses get tighter and cut deeper into the flesh, causing nasty wounds that could lead to the death of the animal. These injuries are caused by the seals swimming into items such as fishing line, bait box bands, rope and raffia cord, which find their way into the water as a result of human negligence.
Help for the seals
In 2007, Claire Taylor and Vincent Calder of the Two Oceans Aquarium started assisting the government department, Oceans and Coasts, with the removal of looped debris and box bands from seals in the V&A Waterfront.
Claire and Vincent regularly patrol the harbour and are often called out to assist when an entangled seal is spotted.
It is extremely difficult to get close to these wild animals.
While the seal team has developed several methods, including snorkeling beneath the piers where the affected seals are basking in the sun and snipping the nooses, sometimes a seal is so badly injured that it is necessary to hold it down in order to cut the noose.
On December 14, 2010, the Seal Platform outside Shoreline Café was unveiled.
Thanks to Sappi, legendary folk singer Peter Sarstedt performed in the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2010 to raise funds for the construction of the platform.
The Platform has a rope-driven gate, which allows Aquarium staff to enclose a wild, injured seal that would otherwise make a break for it should it spot a human approaching. With the platform’s fencing, staff can enclose injured animals and then remove the nooses in which they’re caught, as this video made in 2011 demonstrates:
- See more photos of the Seal Platform in action here: "The that in the end, didn't get away"
More about seals
South African fur seals live in the cold water surrounding the southern tip of Africa. In order for the seals to stay warm in these waters, they have a thick layer of blubber under their skin and a double-layered coat.
Seals feed on a number of shoaling fish species that occur around the South African coast. Seals are keen hunters and often hunt octopus, crabs and crayfish.
Seals in the wild can swim up to 20km/hour and can remain underwater for about seven minutes before surfacing. They usually dive to depths less than 50m, but have been known to go as deep as 200m.
Intricate timing dictates the life cycle of the seal.
In October the huge bull seals come ashore and fierce territorial battles rage.
The pregnant cow seals arrive and give birth to a single black pup, which is suckled for a year.
Females mate soon after giving birth, but the development of the embryo is delayed for four months. This means that although the gestation period is only eight months, the pups are born a year after mating when the colony comes ashore again.
Great white sharks are the natural predators of seals, but seals are being threatened by increased commercial fishing and the resultant over-exploitation of those fish species which comprise a major part of the seals’ diet.
How to tell seals apart
True seals have ear holes, but no external ear flaps.
Their flippers are small and they move on land by "flopping" along on their bellies.
When swimming, they use their back flippers to propel themselves through the water in the same way as a fish would use its tail.
Fur seals and sea lions
They have external ear flaps and their flippers are larger than those of the true seals.
They can rotate their back flippers to ensure agility on land.
When swimming, they use their front flippers to propel themselves through the water.
They have no external ear flaps, but like fur seals and sea lions can rotate their hind flippers for agility on land. Both males and females have tusks.