Man arrested for feeding returned harbour seal

Five Hout Bay Harbour seals were seized by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA and relocated for their safety on Wednesday November 8. Picture: Belinda Abraham

One of five Hout Bay Harbour seals that the SPCA relocated to a secret spot hundreds of kilometres away at the beginning of November has already returned and a man has been arrested for feeding it, says the City.

Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment officials, supported by City Law Enforcement, arrested the man on Friday morning November 24, as part of a crackdown on the “illegal, destructive and cruel practice of seals being fed, habituated and used as an illegal means of eliciting money from unsuspecting tourists visiting the Hout Bay Harbour,” said City spokesman Luthando Tyhalibongo.

On Friday November 8, an SPCA-led operation saw five seals moved from the harbour to an undisclosed location after there were reports that the animals were subjected to abuse and exploitation (“SPCA relocates harbour seals,” Sentinel, November 17).

However, the City confirmed this week that the seals had been moved to the small west coast village of Kleinsee in the Northern Cape and that one of them had already swum a distance of more than 700km in less than seven days to return to Hout Bay.

“This incredible journey of over 100km per day by the seal demonstrates the power of habituation,” Mr Tyhalibongo said.

“Sadly, it also shows us that relocation of the habituated seals is not a viable ongoing solution for the welfare of the seals. The City will continue to monitor the situation and will wait to see if any more of the relocated seals make the trip all the way back to Hout Bay.”

He said the City was monitoring the seal that had returned and would undertake “ongoing operations.“

The Cape of Good Hope SPCA is also monitoring the harbour, said spokeswoman Belinda Abraham.

“Unfortunately, one of the seals has already returned, and we are working closely with the relevant authorities in this regard. The seal feeding and other interactions provided by the individuals plying this trade at the Hout Bay Harbour is sadly extremely lucrative, and we have reports of these individuals making as much as R1000 in an hour.

“Most people don’t witness the cruelty behind the scenes or see how these animals are suffering for entertainment. A seemingly innocent engagement perpetuates a cycle of cruelty behind the scenes, which includes beatings and other aversive techniques to ensure the seals perform or are compliant.”

Paying anyone to feed a seal or to get the seal to perform any tricks or acts; posing with a seal for a photograph; sitting on or touching a seal; or being within five metres of a seal can land you a spot fine of up to R3000 under the Coastal By-Law, warns the City.

“The City and the DFFE would like to inform members of the public, tour operators, tour guides and all our visitors that the feeding, approaching, harassing and disturbance of seals is a criminal offence in terms of the Threatened or Protected Marine Species Regulations and an offence in terms of the City’s Coastal By-Law. Anyone found feeding, disturbing or harassing seals at the Hout Bay Harbour may be arrested and could face criminal charges,“ Mr Tyhalibongo said.

According to the City, the man who was arrested appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Monday November 27, and he was released on R1000 bail on condition that he stays out of the Hout Bay Harbour at all times. He is due to appear in court again in January.

The feeding and harassment of seals can be reported to envirocrime@dffe.gov.za.