Young seals suffer agonising deaths from man-made waste

Condemned to death by man-made waste: Young seals suffer agonising deaths after they’re caught in discarded fishing lines and slowly garrotted as they grow

  • Cape fur seals in Namibia have become entangled in fishing nets on the beaches
  • As they grow, the fibres cut deeper into their bodies, causing painful wounds
  • In 2021, 600 seals from two colonies have been disentangled by researchers

Hundreds of seals are being condemned to agonising deaths due to man-made waste in the oceans. 

Scientists probing the impact of marine pollution on Cape fur seals in Namibia, Africa, have documented 600 entangled animals from two colonies this year.

British expat Tess Gridley, co-director of the Namibia Dolphin Project, said some seals had been entangled in nets since youth, with the fibres cutting ever deeper into their bodies as they grow. 

Hundreds of seals are being condemned to agonising deaths due to man-made waste in the oceans 

Scientists probing the impact of marine pollution on Cape fur seals in Namibia, Africa, have documented 366 entangled animals

British expat Tess Gridley, co-director of the Namibia Dolphin Project, said some seals had been entangled in nets since youth

One seal’s lifeless remains are seen with the head separated from the body, with a tangled net marking where the neck used to be

She said: ‘The most common injury is fishing line or fishing nets around the neck – which account for 53 per cent of entangled animals we recorded. 

‘But we have also seen fishing hooks through the eye, around the jaw and even animals entangled to each other, which is incredibly sad. 

‘Seals are naturally inquisitive and when these items are floating around they look interesting – they might look like seaweed for example – and the seals play with them. 

‘Because of their thick fur, however, once they get entangled it is really hard for them to be freed.’ 

She continued: ‘What we are seeing is that it’s often the young animals which get entangled. 

A seal is seen with a plastic bag in its mouth on a beach on the Erongo Region of Namibia 

The fibres from the fishing nets cuts ever deeper into the seals’ bodies as they grow, causing painful wounds

Images from the study show seals with deep wounds, all maimed by abandoned fishing tackle

‘And then as they grow, the fishing line, net or other plastic material gets tighter and tighter, cutting through the skin and blubber and eventually to muscle. 

‘This can get infected and the extra drag caused by the entangling material slows the seal down and diminishes its remaining energy stores. 

‘Over time, the animal will starve to death or be predated on.’ 

Images from the study show seals with deep wounds, all maimed by abandoned fishing tackle. 

Some of the animals’ injuries are so severe, it looks as if their necks have been slashed. 

One seal is seen with a hook through its eye, while several others are entangled many times over. 

Some of the animals’ injuries are so severe, it looks as if their necks have been slashed

Recently, 31 seals were disentangled in a single day by Ocean Conservation Namibia

The study, which was a collaboration between the Namibian Dolphin Project, Sea Search, Ocean Conservation Namibia and Stellenbosch University, concludes with a call for change

Another’s lifeless remains are seen with its head separated from its body, with a tangled net marking where the neck used to be. 

Recently, 31 seals were disentangled in a single day by Ocean Conservation Namibia. 

Spokesman Naudé Dreyer said these animals represented the tip of the iceberg. 

He said: ‘Since the start of 2021 we have already disentangled over 600 fur seals in only two colonies. 

‘It is imperative that studies such as this highlight the consequences of plastic waste on marine animals, and bring around change for the better.’ 

The study, which was a collaboration between the Namibian Dolphin Project, Sea Search, Ocean Conservation Namibia and Stellenbosch University, concludes with a call for change. 

The study, which ran from April 2018 to March 2020, will be published in the upcoming edition of Marine Pollution Bulletin

A conservationist tries to free a seal which has become trapped within fishing wire which is wreaking havoc on their population

Spokesman Naudé Dreyer said these animals represented the tip of the iceberg of the problem

Dr Gridley, who originally comes from Sheffield, said: ‘This is very much an animal welfare issue as the animals suffer a long, painful death and this is entirely due to human activity. 

‘We need the fishing, plastics and waste disposal industries to work together with governments to prevent plastics from entering the oceans, and to recover lost and discarded fishing nets.’ 

Stephanie Curtis, the study’s lead author, called the impact on seals ‘devastating’. 

She added: ‘Seals should not have to suffer this way because of our carelessness with waste.’ 

The study, which ran from April 2018 to March 2020, will be published in the upcoming edition of Marine Pollution Bulletin. 

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