The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has targeted Namibia’s annual seal culling operation with a covert operation aimed at recording and exposing the brutality of the cull.
The Society launched Operation Desert Seal II in Namibia on Friday.
Its Oceanic Research and Conservation Action Force (Orca) team of five activists has headed to the country where almost 100 000 seals are culled annually from the beginning of July until licence holders reach their quota of 90 000 baby seals and 6 000 bulls.
“Last year a government official called us ‘enemies of the state’ for interfering with their commercial sealing operation. That statement made us even more determined to come back and bring an end to the slaughter of the endangered cape fur seals,” said the Force’s director Laurens de Groot.
The unit crossed the Namibian border carrying high-tech equipment and was currently operating from an undisclosed location in the vast Namib Desert.
“We knew we had to be careful at the border as we knew another NGO was refused entry when it became clear they were entering Namibia to stop the seal slaughter, but our team crossed the border covertly at a crossing where they would never expect us,” said Sea Shepherd South Africa co-ordinator Rosie Kunneke.
“Namibia’s seal population has increased to the point where it exceeded by far the carrying capacity of the environment. Therefore it is humane to curb the unrestrained seal population to a level where they can be sustained by the environment,” the Namibian government said in a recent report.
The seals are rounded up on the beach and hit on the head with spiked wooden clubs to kill them and the carcasses are loaded on to trucks and taken for processing in the factories of seven commercial firms.
The animals are harvested for their pelts, fat, which is used in beauty products and male sexual organs, sought for aphrodisiac properties in Asia.
US Army veteran Jake Weber, part of the Sea Shepherd effort, said that the sealers and the government had spent more money on security than ever before with armed patrols around the seal colony, a convoy of patrol cars surrounding the truck carrying the slaughtered baby seals, and guards with dogs patrolling the seal factory perimeter.
“They even sent out their brand new navy vessel ‘The Elephant’ to patrol along the Cape Cross coast. It’s their dirty little secret they don’t want anybody to know about,” Weber said.
The organisation argued that the Namibian government could make a larger, sustainable profit from live seals than from slaughtered ones and yet it continued to decimate the population of this colony.
Kunneke said that after scouting out the area and the sealers’ operation, they had a good understanding of their security measures.
“The plan… is to use the technology available to us, to expose this brutal crime against nature to a worldwide audience. We are working on a limited budget and if this year is successful, we will be returning with even better equipment and technology.”
Sea Shepherd’s land-based investigations and intervention unit (re-established in January 2012), focuses on anti-poaching and law enforcement efforts, and uses innovative direct action tactics in the field. Small teams of campaign and technical experts investigate and intervene against illegal marine wildlife crimes perpetrated by those who seek to destroy endangered species and other wildlife for profit.
“This is the second year [the society] has undertaken the task to venture into this dangerous and remote area to intervene and expose this to the world,” Kunneke said.
“Last year we expected the mission to be difficult and dangerous, but we had no idea of the true scale of corruption protecting this horrendous industry, and that we would end up running for the border.
“Our strategy is simple: people who try everything to cover up their dirty business should be exposed.”