Thursday, January 20

The frenzied hunting of sea lions in Namibia to save them from plastic | Climate and Environment


Dozens of sea lions run like mad towards the sea. They escape from Naude Dreyer, conservationist and founder of the NGO Ocean Conservation Namibia, which pursues them at full speed with a net similar to a large butterfly net trying to catch one of the specimens to free it from the plastic thread that surrounds its neck. But the sea lions do not know their good intentions and fight not to be captured. Finally, Dreyer gets it, catches one of the hatchlings by the tail, he drags her out of the water and immobilizes her to cut the cable tangled around her neck. This particular hunt, which could seem to go against the animal if the recording is not continued, happily ends with the specimen returning to the sea without the cable that was digging into its skin.

This rescue took place in April last year and many more have followed. The calf belongs to the colony of 50,000 to 100,000 sea lions that live on the Pelican Point peninsula, a breakwater that protects Walis Bay in Namibia, in southwestern Africa. It is estimated that along the coast of the country there is a population of 1.5 million specimens. The garbage that is thrown or abandoned in the ocean, especially the remains of fishing gear, has become one of the greatest dangers for these marine mammals. These objects “trap, torture and kill them,” warns the NGO.

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They are very playful animals with “anything they can find”. A behavior that often causes the specimens to be trapped by “plastic, clothing, traces of nets, rusted paint bucket washers or anything that may look like a toy.” And that curiosity can turn deadly. In another of the videos, two small specimens are seen joined by the neck with a skein of plastic threads from which they cannot be released, a lethal trap. The NGO team also manages to untangle them from the ropes that torture them.

Rescues don’t always end in success. The work is complicated when Dreyer and his team are faced with the capture of adult specimens. “I have taken several bites, but what worries us most is the safety of the animals,” Dreyer responds to EL PAÍS. In one of the videos effort to try to catch an adult is appreciated, but despite attempts to get it into the net, the animal, weighing about 200 kilos, ends up escaping to the sea. “Too big, too fast, too strong, scary as hell,” Dreyer explains to the camera with gasps. In those cases, special networks and “a lot of creativity” are needed, and it doesn’t always work.

Although it seems that rescuers can harm the assisted sea lions when they grab them by the tail or stand on top to prevent them from moving, the NGO assures that they are very resistant animals and that the pressure they exert on them is, in any case, “Uncomfortable, but does not pose any risk.” The goal of the organization, founded in 2020, is to free seals, sea lions and other species from the garbage that man throws into the sea as if it were a garbage can capable of swallowing everything. Between 2019 and 2020 they have saved more than 900 specimens, and in the last eight years (the time he has been working on it) the conservationist has rescued another 1,600 individuals.

Dreyer saves all the information for further investigation and hopes that advocacy will lead to more responsible behavior that avoids this danger. Keep in mind that even small pieces of fishing line can kill fully developed seals, the NGO says.

Eight million tons of plastic reach the sea every year – 12 million if you count other types of garbage, Greenpeace indicates – that affect marine animals not only because they are trapped like sea lions, seals, turtles, whales, but also because the ingested in the form of microplastics (fragments smaller than five millimeters). Chemical components of plastics have also been detected in fin whales (fin whales) in the Atlantic. A CSIC study detected a significant amount of substances that are used to soften plastic or as flame retardants. Krill, a small crustacean and the whales’ main food source, contains the same levels of these substances.

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