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Everything our Marine Wildlife Management Team needs to disentangle Cape fur seals

By Laura du Toit
- Seals, Conservation, Our team, Plastic Pollution, Marine Wildlife, Foundation, Blog
Everything our Marine Wildlife Management team needs to disentangle Cape fur seals

The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Marine Wildlife Management Programme (MWMP) regularly disentangles Cape fur seals in the V&A Waterfront precinct. Cape fur seals often become trapped in nooses of box bands, fishing lines, raffia cords, and other materials. If left unattended, these nooses can lead to death.

The MWMP preserves the welfare of Cape fur seals in the V&A Waterfront precinct by actively monitoring, identifying, and disentangling entrapped seals. The team has developed innovative techniques and specially designed tools to rescue entangled seals and is equipped to rescue seals in any situation. Their priority is always to remove the material from the seal as safely as possible and in a way that causes the least stress to the animal.

The seal platforms are one of the keys to enabling safer, easier disentanglements of entrapped seals. Most commonly, our Seal Monitors approach the entangled seal from one of these platforms – either from the water beneath or the platform above!

A Cape fur seal with a plastic band around its neck.

What preparation goes into a successful disentanglement?

The MWMP’s Seal Monitors patrol the V&A Waterfront precinct during the day, observing the population of Cape fur seals and keeping an eye out for entanglements. The team also has a network of people working and living in the area who get in contact when they spot entangled seals during their daily activities.

Seals are naturally wary of humans, and entangled seals are even more so, given their vulnerable state. So, our team monitors the entangled seals for periods of inactivity in areas that are accessible for a rescue to take place as safely and stress-free as possible.

If an entangled seal is resting on a seal platform, the Seal Monitors will approach either from the water underneath or the walkway above.

In the first case, the Seal Monitors will wear wetsuits, a scuba mask, and fins. Before approaching the seal platform from the water, the monitors wet their hair to mask their scent from the watchful seals. The monitors then carefully approach the entangled seal from underneath the platform, using the wood beams to hold their position.

Brett Glasby, Marine Wildlife Management Programme Coordinator, removes a noose from a seal using the hooked cutting tool.

Our Seal Monitors are all highly skilled at safely disentangling Cape fur seals from the ground. This is done using a variety of methods that are tailored to each situation. Depending on the area, our team may take the Aquarium’s boat into the harbour to rescue a seal or simply walk to a jetty nearby!

If the entangled seal has a more severe injury or is larger, Dr Ilse Jenkinson (the Aquarium vet) will accompany the MWMP team to administer antibiotics, sedation, or painkillers.

TOA vet Dr Ilse Jenkinson inspecting a sedated Cape fur seal
Aquarium vet, Dr Ilse Jenkinson, inspecting a sedated Cape fur seal after removing an entanglement.

What tools does our team use to disentangle?

The team has various tools and cutters for disentanglements, from the trusty Leatherman Raptor Shears to a specially designed cutting hook on the end of a metal rod. The Leatherman Raptor Shears are helpful in situations when our seal monitors must get very close to the entangled seal or if the noose itself is of particularly robust material.

Alternatively, the specialised cutting hook is a useful tool should our seal monitor be planning to disentangle the seal from beneath or above the seal platform. Our team has a few versions of this tool: one with a shorter handle for closer proximity disentanglements and another with a long handle for those where there is a greater distance between the seal and the rescuer.

The cutting hook has a sharp inner curve that cuts through entanglements without harming the Cape fur seal.
IMG 9067
The Leatherman Raptor Shears are a reliable and strong tool for disentangling Cape fur seals.

Our Marine Wildlife Management Team is highly experienced at expertly, safely, and quickly removing nooses and other obstructions from Cape fur seals. The team has disentangled thousands of Cape fur seals since the programme's inception and will continue doing great work for the seal population in the V&A Waterfront!

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