The Namibian seal hunt is responsible for the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth and is considered to be the most brutal of all seal culls.
Each year up to 85,000 baby seals are killed in Namibia to make just a few dollars from their furs.
Terrified pups are rounded up, separated from their mothers, and violently beaten to death. An additional 6000 bull seals are killed for their genitalia (thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures.) Most of this is exported ultimately to Asia.
At 6 am, the clubbing begins. Then, at 9 am each morning, bulldozers clean up and restore the beach before the tourists arrive to view the colony, because all of this happens in a designated seal reserve.
Namibia is the only country in the Cape fur seal's range in which commercial hunting is permitted. Sealing occurs on two mainland colonies, Cape Cross and Wolf/Atlas Bay on the DeBeers company property, where 75 percent of the pups are born.
From July 1 through Nov 15, commercial hunters hire approximately 160 part-time workers to kill the seals, most pups between the ages of 7 and 11 months.
The Namibian government defends its industry claiming seals consume about 700,000 metric tons of fish a year and must be killed. When commercial sealing was ended in South Africa in the 1990’s, the fishing industry was not impacted negatively, but rather, it was improved.
Namibia plans to increase the size of its annual seal cull next year in an effort to create jobs.
For each of the last three years, Namibia has issued quotas of 91,000 seals, consisting of about 85,000 pups and 6,000 bulls. Records indicate that the quota has not been met for the last several years. Essentially entire generations of seals are wiped out every year.
Cape Fur Seals now have a natural mortality rate of around 30 percent within the first few weeks of being born.
Loss of habitat, commercial fishing, pollution, and starvation are also major threats to these animals.
Between 1994 and 2000, it is estimated that some 300,000 seals died from starvation, and the pup birthing rates decrease with each passing year.
Scientists indicate there are about a million cape fur seals in the wild. The quota set by the Namibian government for culling the pups, until 2019, will be a million pups.
IUCN has asked for a review of seal populations in Namibia, particularly given their plummeting populations.
Despite a declining population of Cape fur seals and high mortality rates among the seal population, the hunting quota increases every year.
Cape fur seals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Baby seal pups are clubbed, then often alive when stabbed in the heart and skinned.
Clubbing begins when the seal pups are just seven months old, still little babies, and very much dependent on their mothers. Both Canada and Russia stopped and banned the practice of killing seal pups still nursing or less than one year of age.
The European Union (EU) last year banned all imports of seal products due to cruelty. Total import bans on all seal products are now also in effect in the US, Mexico and South Africa – for a total of 27 countries.
The Namibian SPCA, that has the legal powers and mandate to prevent cruelty and end the ‘cull,’ have actually condoned the violent fatal beating of 85,000 baby seal pups.
Seal culling violates Namibia's own Animal Protection and Marine Resources Act.
The hunt in Namibia is now the largest commercial seal hunt in the world, and does not comply with international protecting marine mammals.
The cull occurs in Cape Cross Seal Reserve. The reserve is the home of one of the largest colonies of Cape Fur Seals in the world. Reserve implies seals are protected – they are not.
Currently, the official Ombudsman for Namibia, John Walters, is carrying out an independent investigation into allegations that the seal harvest is breaking a variety of rules and regulations, both under the Exploitation of Marine Resources, and under cruelty laws.
The ‘cull’ is driven by only one man, Hatem Yavuz, who has the contract to buy every skin resulting from the Namibian seal slaughter until 2019. He pays $3 per pelt but will eventually sell his fur coats for as much as $30,000. Local Namibian workers are paid less than minimum wage and live in poverty.
Namibia depends on healthy marine ecosystems and tourism – however other nations are knowingly taking advantage of their last remaining resources.
Only a few are becoming wealthy from the cull – leaving destruction for future generations.
A new economic study has confirmed the seals are worth three times as much alive rather than dead. In 2008, the seal hunt generated only £320,000, a poor comparison to seal watching which netted £1.3 million in direct tourism expenditure in the same period.
Seal watching in contrast is a popular tourism activity undertaken by around 10 per cent of tourists to Namibia - just over 100,000 in 2008. Based on current growth trends, the report predicts that by 2016 as many as 175,000 tourists will participate in seal watching, generating close £2.2 million in direct revenues.