The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) confirmed 26 incidents of aggression by seals towards humans since 2021, and they are still trying to get to the bottom of why seal attacks are on the increase.
Also read: Seal guardians, assemble: The SPCA has launched a Seal Squad
This was revealed following a parliamentary question by DA MP David Bryant.
“Following recent reported incidents of conflict between wild seals and humans at South African beaches, (DFFE) has identified any verifiable evidence, locally or internationally, linking high levels of domoic acid or any other toxins present in water along the South African coastline with unprovoked aggression in fur seals; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details,” he asked
In response, Minister Barbara Creecy said that while historical information on the number of incidents was limited, at least 26 incidents had occured since 2021.
“The DFFE or any other institution has yet to conclusively link aggression towards humans to domoic acid or any other neurotoxin poisoning,” Creecy stated.
“To be specific, the DFFE and/ or associated stakeholders are yet to capture and test an animal that was involved with such aggression towards humans for conclusive testing.”
“However, international investigations have linked the behaviour to domoic acid poisoning in sea lions in the United States of America.”
“There is a perceived increase in the number of reported incidents in the past three years.”
“Most reported incidents are centred around Hout Bay; an area with a breeding colony of seals around which a successful snorkelling industry operates.”
“The DFFE has also noted that additional seal colonies have been establishing south of the west coast.”
“This accidentally increases seal and human interactions as more seals have been seen in urban areas and/or areas of high human presence. In view of public concerns and keeping animal welfare in mind, the DFFE is keeping track of all reports of seal-human conflict.”
A large number of the Cape fur seals died in the Eland’s Bay area of the West Coast in September 2021, coinciding with the period when seals prepare for their breeding season and colonies see an influx of mature individuals.
In total, 1,633 seals were buried or removed by the municipalities between September and November 2021, DFFE explained.