Namibia is home to roughly 1.3 million Cape Fur Seals. They enjoy 1200km of pristine coastline and plenty of fish in the ocean to keep them fat and healthy. Seals normally start to give birth in November every year. The pups stay with each other in "creche colonies" while the mothers go off hunting, and they protect each other from predators. At the end of September 2020, Naude Dreyer from Ocean Conservation Namibia noticed that some of the pregnant seals were already giving birth. Unfortunately the babies won't survive. They are underdeveloped and the "creche colonies" have not formed yet. A few premature births can be witnessed every year, but 2020 is different. Naude didn't just witness a few cases of premature seal pups, he saw thousands. The beaches are covered in foetuses, surrounded by mothers who mourn the loss of their pups. We can't say at this stage if we will have baby seals at all this year!
Dr Tess Gridley and Dr Simon Elwen from the Namibian Dolphin Project, our local veterinarian Renscha Beeker and South African veterinarian Dr Brett Gardner, who specialises in premature seal labour, french scientists Dr. Isabelle Charrier and Mathilde Martin, and Naude and Katja Dreyer from Ocean Conservation Namibia are trying their hardest to find answers.
We have started to collect samples of premature seal pups. We need your help to figure out why this is happening. Several factors could be contributing to this mass seal die off. It could be related to starvation: maybe there is no fish close by? Maybe bacterial or viral infections are to blame? To determine the most likely cause of this tragedy, we need to run some expensive and specialised tests. They can only be done in South Africa, and we need to have 30 foetuses tested. Including transport, we need to raise about U$5000. Please help us to find out what is happening, maybe we can prevent it from happening ever again.