OPERATION BLOODY FJORDS
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OPERATION SILENT SEALS
FIRST FOOTAGE SECURED IN OVER A DECADE
UNDERCOVER FILMING EXPOSES INHUMANE KILLING OF CAPE FUR SEALS
Namibia is the only country in the Southern Hemisphere to still undertake a legal cull – with other nations, such as South Africa, having long since put protections for Cape fur seals in place. Historically culls in Namibia were undertaken on a subsistence basis by local tribes and the animals provided a wide range of essential resources for survival such as skins, food and oil. But this no longer happens and the cull at Cape Cross is undertaken by a Chinese-owned commercial entity
In recent years Namibian officials have been placed under increasing pressure to increase the Total Allowable Catch (quota) by the holders of the killing concessions. This has seen the Namibian government increasing quotas again - despite a large die off in 2020 - amid inaccurate claims the practice is essential to protect commercial fisheries, with Ministers insisting upon of publicly referring to the annual slaughter as a ‘harvest’ in order to make it more socially acceptable.
1990 saw a total quota for bulls of just 1,610 compared to the 2023 quota of 6,000
An industry with a lot to hide
Investigations into the industry were last undertaken over a decade ago and showed untrained workers leaving seals injured and dying on killing beaches. However Namibian authorities have repeatedly refused to permit independent monitoring of the sealers’ activities, claiming government appointed inspectors are sufficient to ensure a swift and humane death. The call for improved animal welfare procedures is further complicated by Namibian legislation that does not classify seals as animals, therefore excluding them from existing animal welfare legislation.
2023 saw the cull being undertaken at two locations: Atlas and Wolf Bay in the south of the country and Cape Cross Seal Reserve.
A total quota of 80,000 pups and 6,000 bulls was issued but with the collapse of the seal fur market, the main export market is in the Cape fur seal bulls for their genitalia in Traditional Chinese Medicine to
Enter drone technology and Operation Silent Seals
Advancements in drone technology and a specialised undercover team meant we were at last able to insert a crew into Namibia to attempt undercover monitoring and documentation of the cull at Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Despite difficult operating conditions, an international team of CPWF UK crew were in place ahead of the start of the cull to document the process, with filming
uncovering shocking daily infringements
of the regulations and guidance, with scant regard to animal welfare and disturbance to the Cape fur seal colony.
“When agreeing to undertake the investigation, I was aware that previous monitoring attempts had been met with violence but when an industry is this secretive, it means they probably have something to hide.” Undercover operative
Full results of the investigation will be published here FIRST
Covert filming shows a lack of compliance with the regulations… seals shot but left alive and ignored whilst workers rested nearby… government appointed inspectors failing to examine individual animals and keeping a distance of up to 30 metres from the animals to be examined. Most shockingly, footage shows shot animals dying over a period extending to over seven minutes during which time they are clubbed, cut open to bleed out and then clubbed again before finally slipping into unconsciousness and death.
The Namibian Ombudsman issued guidance in 2012 to improve the humaneness of the cull but our filming shows that Seal Products Pty views this as a tick box exercise with little genuine interest in reducing the level of suffering animals experience. The focus is purely on killing as many bulls as possible for the Traditional Chinese Medicine market, focussing on the strongest and largest bulls, rather than the weak.
“Research has shown that Cape fur seals do not feed upon commercial species so the argument of needing to protect artisanal fisheries simply doesn’t stack up”, says Rob Read, Chief Operations Officer for Captain Paul Watson Foundation UK. “This brutal cull is not about meeting the food or fishing needs of the Namibian people – the concession to cull at Cape Cross Seal Reserve is owned and operated by Chinese interests and, with the collapse of the seal fur market, the only real interest is in the genitalia of the adult bull seals for the Far East market and Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
DO SEALS EAT
The oceans of the world are interconnected, with impacts in one part of the world having a knock-on effect across the wider ocean. Increasing industrialisation of the ocean is already placing unprecedented levels of pressure on the marine environment and apex predators such as the Cape fur seal require protection to ensure they can continue their vital role in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.
As well as the animal welfare issues inherent to sealing, the industry also has wider negative impacts on local communities.
With the footage obtained the Captain Paul Watson Foundation UK, working alongside organisations within Africa, calls for an end to the annual Namibian cull. In the meantime we ask the government of Namibia to:
Open the killing to observers to improve transparency
Reclassify seals as animals, with their slaughter required to comply with animal welfare legislation
Publish the decision making process behind the total allowable catch , with information provided on the methodology used to calculate the current Cape fur seal population in Namibia, details of how this work was funded, and declarations of the vested interests between the ministries and the seal cull industry
Commission a study on sealers and their communities to investigate the impacts of the sealing industry, giving particular attention to issues such as PTSD, domestic violence, substance abuse and work related injuries and illnesses
Give attention to the creation of higher-wage job opportunities through the maximisation of the existing potential for seal tourism
Cape Fur Seals
Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) are the largest of all the fur seals and belong to the eared seal family (otariids). Adult males grow to lengths of 2.3-2.5 metres and weigh upto 300kg. Pup mortality is estimated at 30-50%, due to predation, disease and other factors. Life expectancy, for those that survive the early months, is around 20 years.
Males start to come ashore for breeding in October and remain until December. The seal population at Cape Cross is habituated to humans as a result of tourism, although some remain cautious on land. The cull season officially closes on the 15th November each year.
Whilst about ¾ of an adult seal’s diet is made up of fish, research has shown that this consists of non-commercial species such as pelagic gobies and lantern fish, supplemented by squid, crabs and other crustaceans.
CLAIMS: The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism’s website claims that Cape Cross has an estimated Cape Fur seal population of 210 000; and there are 1.6 million seals in total in all the colonies in Namibia.
Reality: We question the validity of these findings. There is no published details on how and when the most recent population survey was undertaken and whether those conducting the population count were independent scientists, rather than those contracted by concession holders or employed by the Namibian government which indirectly benefits from the cull. Despite the introduction of an Access to Information Act in 2022, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources remain notoriously secretive about the industry and the information isn’t forthcoming.
Claim: Seals are “harvested” sustainably in accordance to Namibian law as they are in direct conflict with commercial fisheries.
Reality: The fisheries in Namibia are in crisis due to overfishing; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and mismanagement by authorities in a department facing on-going allegations of corruption. Indeed ministry spokesperson Uaripi Katjiukua stated in an article published in The Namibian on 14 June 2023 that “There is no conflict between the fishing industry and the seals. The perception that seals consume more fish is not always correct, with studies in the past two years indicating that seals have been feeding on non-commercial species.” Regardless, key ministers continue to insist the slaughter is required due to direct competition between commercial fishing and Cape fur seals.
Claim: Seals are harvested according to regulations.
Reality: Namibia’s legislation pertaining to the killing of bulls state:
Seals must be harvested in the presence of at least one fisheries inspector.
be killed on land by shooting the seal with a rifle in the head so that the bullet immediately kills the seal;
the inspector overseeing the harvest must be satisfied that a seal, which has been shot, is dead.
Our documentation shows bulls not being immediately killed, with some writhing in agony until eventual death through bleeding out and clubbing. The fisheries inspector present witnessed these transgressions and delays in undertaking the follow-up killing method and simply stood by – rarely coming closer than 30 metres to the seals being inspected and failing to undertake close inspections to confirm death even once workers had moved on.
Claim: Workers must receive training before and during the season. Only clubbers performing at an adequate level are permitted to use clubs whilst marksmen must undergo a weekly test to satisfy inspectors of their accuracy.
Reality: Through surveillance efforts, our volunteer crew were able to confirm large numbers of potential workers arriving at Seal Products Pty on the 23rd October. Much of the day saw workers queuing and waiting around. Late in the working day, selected applicants were provided with PPE of wellies and coveralls and the killing commenced early the following day. There was no evidence of training being provided to attendees and no 'on the job' training was observed on the first day (or subsequent days) of the cull.
Claim: The Namibian government claims that the sealing industry is 100% Namibian.
Reality: Ministry spokesperson Uaripi Katjiukua stated in an article published in The Namibian on 14 June 2023 that the sector is 100% Namibian. This is not true. According to our sources in Namibia, concessions were issued to Namibian organisations operating out of Lüderitz (for killing at Atlas and Wolf Bay) with the remainder issued to Chinese owned firm Seal Products Pty located in Henties Bay (where Cape Cross seals are processed). Workers on the killing beaches and in the facility are mostly casual labour from the local population, living below the poverty line and who have little option but to accept the opportunity for three week’s worth of work.
Claim: There are two killing sites in 2023 at Cape Cross and Terrace Bay.
Reality: Ministry spokesperson Uaripi Katjiukua stated in an article published in The Namibian on 14 June 2023 that seals will be harvested (not culled) at Terrace Bay and Cape Cross. However, killing was actually only undertaken at Atlas/Wolf Bay near Lüderitz and Cape Cross on the Skeleton Coast.