Cape Cross and the Seal Reserve

It is with mixed emotions that I write about our visit to Cape Cross, which is north of Swakopmund. I was excited to see the seal colony that lives there but the visit was overshadowed by what Bruno had shared with us about that area while on our Sandwich Harbor tour. David and I were asking questions about Cape Cross….how far of a drive from Swakopmund, whether they would recommend that we go visit the area, etc.

Bruno mentioned about reserve not being closed in the early morning because of the clubbing of the seals….Kristen, another lady on our tour, turned to me and said that he is talking about the cubbing of the seals….we both thought that the it was a birthing time for the seals and to keep the public at bay, they closed the reserve during certain hours to give the seals solitude.

It was then that Bruno said, no – he was talking about clubbing and proceeded to explain to us that they killed the baby seals and some of the male seals during the month of July. He said that 1 1/2% of the baby seals, up to as many as 18,000 were killed for their meat, oil and pelts. The male seals were killed for their skin to make leather shoes with and their testicles and penises, which were sold to Asian countries as aphrodisiacs.

However, the July 26, 2011 article in the Cape Times that I found online, (http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/sea-shepherd-flees-namibia-1.1105975#.VKpgnsb5nzI), says that 90,000 are killed each year and Namibia is the only country the southern hemisphere that still permits seal clubbing. As you can imagine, the culling of the population is very controversial. It is said that it is done to sell the seal by-products and to protect the fish population. However, the Seal Alert South Africa, a seal protection group, estimates that there is a loss of only 0.3% of fish to the commercial fishermen (Wikipedia, Cape Cross, Seal Reserve).

For me, the “animal loving, vegetarian” it is so difficult for me to comprehend or even imagine how someone could club and kill such a defenseless small animal. Honestly, it makes me sick and sad to even think about it as I type this.IMG_0940

My animal beliefs are something that I prefer to keep to myself. I will rarely discuss or argue my thoughts about animals and even my choice of what I eat. Even with my beliefs, I understand that hunting is a “necessary evil” to keep the herds healthy. Have you ever seen the suffering of the white tail deer when there is not enough food for the herds in the winter or the snow is so deep that they have a difficult time moving around. It isn’t pretty.

I will be the first to admit that I am way too emotional and think with my heart when it comes to animal issues. Many a time, David, my husband, tries to help me think logically. (Key word in that sentence is “tries.”) He is my balance. So, when he says that he doesn’t understand why the culling continues, it really drives me over the edge. We are both of the strong opinion that it persist because of the revenue it brings in for the Namibian government. Shame on them for allowing such a barbaric procedure to continue.

David and I had a free day before heading to Sossusvlei so decided to make the drive to see the seal reserve and possibly continue up the coast to see the shipwrecks and whale skeletons that a guide-book had written can be seen at the Skeleton Coast Park. The shipwrecks are from unfortunate sailors who navigated too close to the shore and the whale bones are remains from the days of whale hunts. I would have loved to see it all but it turned out that the park was another 4 or 5 hour drive and that was after we had driven 2 1/2 hours to Cape Cross. By the time we had arrived to Cape Cross, it was early afternoon and if we continued, it would have meant driving back in the dark – something we really didn’t want to do. We will just have to make another trip back to Namibia and fly everywhere we want to go!

As you can see by the picture that I took while riding in the car, it is very barren. We only got glimpses of the ocean as we traveled north.  IMG_0422

On the left was this mountain range.IMG_0953

As we got closer to Cape Cross, there were tables set up selling salt with the honor system. It reminded me of selling potatoes in northern Maine during potato harvest season with the honor system. Take what you want and put the money in the jar.IMG_0426

Once at Cape Cross, we had to pay for admission and register the car before entering the reserve. I took this picture of the whale bones, outside of the ranger’s cabin where we paid…the closest I would get to seeing them on this trip.IMG_0427

Cape Cross was first discovered in 1486 by the Portuguese navigator, Diego Cão while he was searching for a sea route to Asia. He erected a stone cross which was removed in 1893 by a German Naval Captain, Gottlieb Becker and put in the Oceanographical Museum in Berlin, Germany. There were a couple of crosses erected to replace the original one taken, one was made of wood and another made of stone. However, in 1974, a replica cross, more like the original, was erected. There are two crosses in my photo. I have no idea which was erected in 1974 as the signs were in a language that I couldn’t decipher….possibly Afrikaans?IMG_0950

Before you even see the seals, the thing you notice is the smell….there are no words to describe it. It is extremely strong and literally takes your breath away once you step out of the car. David couldn’t stand out too long…I stayed out longer than he did taking pictures and later regretted it. The trip home, we both kept getting whiffs of the “seal smell” and could not figure out where it was coming from. The smell had permeated my hair and clothing. I could not wait to get back to the hotel room, take a shower and wash my cloths….it was horrible!!!

My guide-book said that in 1968, 23 square mile (60 square kilometers) was proclaimed a seal reserve to protect one of the largest colony of Cape Fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) in world. At any one time, there can be anywhere from 200,000 to 350,000. I believe at the ranger’s cabin, I read that there were 90,000…regardless, there were many, many seals.IMG_0925IMG_0936IMG_0935

The bull seals arrive in October to stake their territory. The pups are born in late November and early December. This meant that the pups that we were seeing, at the end of December, were very young. Armed with the knowledge of how they cull the seals and then actually seeing them, I found it all very sad. There were baby seals everywhere, unattended by their mothers. Many of them were grouped together, others were wandering around as if in search of their mother and some appeared dead. I had to look up how mother seals nurtured their little ones once I got back from my trip because to me, there didn’t appear to be any nurturing going on.

This shelter only had a couple of female seals and every other inch were baby seals.

This shelter only had a couple of female seals and every other inch were baby seals.

What I learned from Wikipedia is that fur seals will nurse their pups for several continuous days and then leave them for as long as a week to forage for food before returning to their pup. They continue this until the pup is weaned which takes approximately 4 months. It is very rare that a mother will nurture another seal’s pup. That explained why so many pups were unattended. It was very sad, though.

On our return to Swakopmund, we stopped to look closer at the ship wreck we had spied on our trip to Cape Cross. By the looks of the bird’s nest in the mast, it looks like it had been there for a while.IMG_0958IMG_0959

The beaches are incredible and there were many vacationers doing some surf fishing…it reminded us of the Outer Banks in North Carolina where we saw our first surf fishermen with their long poles attached to the outside of their vehicles for easy transport!IMG_0955

I hope that you have found this post informative and that I have shared more facts than my emotions in it. I don’t think I would make a good reporter as I find it difficult to share just the facts and leave the emotions out.

Stay tuned as the best part of our trip is about to be shared!!!

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