Stranded seal on the beach? Here’s what to do

“Recently when I was walking along the high tide mark on Muizenberg Beach with my family, our dog ran ahead of us and sniffed at something in the distance. As we got closer, we saw that she had found a seal! The seal looked quite weak and thin and wasn’t moving at all. No one else around seemed to have noticed it yet. We didn’t know what to do – should we leave it there? Call someone? Who do we call? I tried looking up information on my phone but really struggled to find anything relevant…we ended up walking away but I have been wondering about it ever since…”

Spending time along the vast and varied coastline of South Africa, you will most likely at some point come across a Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) on the beach, rocky shoreline or around harbours and ports. Cape fur seals congregate in colonies along the West Coast, around the Cape Peninsula and right up the East Coast to Algoa Bay in Port Elizabeth. Sometimes a single seal is found separated from the colony – most often these animals have come ashore to rest and are perfectly fine left to their own movement and will return to the sea or colony when necessary. At other times, a seal might be injured or in need of help. In Cape Town, a response protocol has been developed in order to manage and coordinate efforts to assist seals that have been found by members of the public.

Stranding response

If you come across a visibly injured, sick, dying or dead seal around the Cape Peninsula. First contact to be made should be with the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Wildlife Unit. The SPCA will coordinate the necessary response, and involve any other organisation as required.

What to do:

  • Contact the SPCA Wildlife Unit at 021 700 4158/4159, or 083 326 1604 for after hours and on weekends
  • Report what you observe from a distance: important information to relay is location, any behaviour the seal is displaying and what its physical condition is
  • Keep others away from the seal if possible – explaining that someone is on the way to assist often helps with this
  • Keep any dogs away from the seal

Whilst they are able to move much more freely on land than true seals due to their forward-facing front flippers, Cape fur seals can still be aggressive when approached. This is because they cannot move away from a perceived threat as quickly on land as they might be able to in the water. This behaviour may also be aggravated if the seal is injured.

What not to do:

  • Do not approach the seal unnecessarily
  • Do not touch the seal
  • Do not try to feed the seal
  • Do not try get the seal to go back into the water

How do I know a seal needs assistance?

If the seal is not displaying any behaviour as indicated below, it must not be interfered with – in other words if it is not clearly injured or dying, please do not disturb it.

Signs that a seal may need assistance:

  • The seal is entangled in some manner by plastic, fishing line, rope or other debris
  • The seal is severely emaciated (very thin)
  • The seal has a serious injury or is discharging fluids

If a seal does need to be responded to the SPCA will remove the seal from the beach, and make the informed decision as to whether it could be rehabilitated or needs to unfortunately be euthanised.

If you find a dead seal you can still call the SPCA, who will coordinate the response by the Solid Waste Department of the City.

Please contact Animal Ocean at info@sealsnorkeling.com if you would like to make donations to our Seal Disentanglement fund. These donations help staff at the Two Oceans Aquarium with disentanglements at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Stranded Cape fur seal, what to do ? Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling
Sedative being administered in order to attend to this seals entanglement injury
Stranded Cape fur seal, what to do ? Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling
Success! The noose has been removed and the wound cleaned and covered with antiseptic cream to help this seal heal

*Important points taken from the Seals on Shore Response Protocol developed by the City of Cape Town in January 2020, which arose from a meeting that Steve Benjamin attended involving all relevant organisations in Cape Town.