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article imageOver 5,000 dead Cape fur seal fetuses washed up on Namibia beach

By Karen Graham     Oct 19, 2020 in Environment
Over 5,000 dead seal pups have washed ashore along the coast of Pelican Point peninsula in Namibia, raising grave concerns from conservationist groups.
Naude Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN), flew his drone over Walvis Bay’s Pelican Point seal colony on October 5, and counted hundreds of bodies. “This is tragic, as it makes up a large portion of the new pup arrivals expected in late November,” he tweeted.
“This is the situation at Pelican Point, Namibia," his organisation tweeted. "All the little red circles mark dead seal pups. A rough estimate brings the numbers to more than 5,000 at our seal colony alone. This is tragic, as it makes up a large portion of the new pup arrivals expected in late November.”
Cape fur seals are often referred to as the "dogs of the ocean" due to their playful nature and abundance of energy. However, the female seals are known to desert their young or suffer miscarriages when food supplies are scarce, according to Natural Blaze.
Cape fur seals can be found along the coasts of Namibia and South Africa, with the females giving birth to their pups in November and December. It is well known that occasionally, female seals will abort their fetuses, but not on the scale seen in this die-off. This unprecedented number of deaths has resulted in a probe by the country's fisheries ministry.
Dr Tess Gridley, of the Namibian dolphin project and Stellenbosch University in South Africa is part of the research group monitoring the situation. Gridley says they have estimated that over 5,000 deaths have occurred, but the numbers could be higher because scavengers, such as black-backed jackals eat the carcasses, per The Guardian.
“We are concerned about emaciated juveniles and adult females as well, which have also been observed at Pelican Point and to the north – indicating a wider scale to this event.
“This event could disrupt the normal breeding cycle at the affected colonies. Normally females will give birth to a pup each year, and they come into oestrus shortly afterwards and mate with the bulls. With females aborting pregnancies, they may come into oestrus earlier, but the males may not have organised themselves for mating. Also, the females are very thin and may not be healthy enough to reproduce.”
At this point in the investigation, there is not enough evidence to confirm a reason for the die-off, although everything from toxins to lack of food or disease are all being considered. A similar die-off occurred in 1994 that was attributed to malnutrition and a secondary bacterial infection, Streptococcus phocae.
More about fur seals, Namibia beaches, females thin, lack of food, November birthing season
 
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