Drastic reduction in mass seal deaths from pup abortion shrinking off the coast of Namibia

Niël Terblanché

The mass abortion of seal pups along the Namibian coast has been drastically reduced and the mass extinction of adult seals is slowing down.

Scientists and environmentalists were baffled by the large number of dead seals and aborted pups they discovered on the Pelican Point peninsula off Walvis Bay about two weeks ago.

At the first count, Naude Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia counted around 5,000 aborted seal pups on the beach and reported that adult seals in the colony where she first saw death appeared emaciated.

Since then, he has counted approximately 2,000 more aborted puppies.

He also reported that adult seals, especially females that aborted their pups, were also dying.

In the end, the conservationist, assisted by volunteer marine biologists at the Namibia Dolphin Project, counted about 7,000 of the marine mammals that appeared on the beaches near Walvis Bay.

The scientists took tissue and blood samples from the dead animals.

  • Drastic reduction in mass seal deaths from pup abortion shrinking off the coast of Namibia

The samples were sent to laboratories in South Africa for analysis in an effort to discover what could be the cause of the mass fatality event.

Dreyer indicated that the test results are still pending.

At the time of the discovery of the first large group of dead animals, it was suspected that several factors, such as starvation and bacterial infection, could be the cause of the mass fatality event.

Earlier this week, Dreyer, with the help of Mike Böttger, one of Namibia’s most accomplished light aircraft pilots, conducted a reconnaissance flight along the coast of Namibia, where most of Namibia’s colonies are located. known seals, to determine the extent of the mass casualty event among seafarers. mammals.

Dreyer said the flight took them along 200 kilometers of shoreline south of Walvis Bay.

“There are more dead adults and young cubs south of Walvis Bay than north, but the numbers are not as bad as expected. Most of the bodies appear to be more than a week old, which means that death is slowing down rapidly, ”he said.

Dreyer noted that there also appears to be a drastic reduction in the number of aborted puppies on the beach.

He noted that it will take a while to formally collect all the data collected during the flight, adding that there are about 4,000 images to process before a final conclusion can be reached on the current state of the seal colonies.

Many theories have been postulated about the mass extinction event since it started to make headlines around the world over the past two weeks.

Some experts in Namibia’s fishing industry said that the advent of the COVID-9 pandemic and the strict measures in place that prevented trawlers and longline fishing vessels could have been the main cause of the mass death.

Several sea captains agreed that hunger may have been the main factor contributing to the fishing vessels being restricted to the port of Walvis Bay as a result of the blockade measures.

“Seal colonies on and south of the Pelican Point peninsula formed relatively recently and only due to the fishing industry in the port. Following our boats, the seals were assured of a stable food source. Since the fishing boats have not gone out regularly, the food supply was cut off, so it could be starvation that is causing most of the deaths, ”said a retired captain of a trawler.

Another conservationist said that female Cape fur seals have an uncanny ability to stop their fetuses from getting pregnant while they are still weaning their young from the previous mating season.

The mating season for Cape fur seals occurs in late November and early December and female harems of dominant bulls are impregnated while still weaning the young from the previous season.

Once the baby seal at weaning reaches a certain stage of growth and weight, the gestation of the new fetus continues but if that does not happen, the mother will abort the fetus that is growing in her uterus to continue caring for the baby that has already been born. .

Female seals have been known to abort their young if they experience adverse conditions, such as a sudden food shortage or if disease occurs in the colony to which they belong.

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