Is La Niña responsible for seal deaths?

24 February 2021 | Environment


Swakopmund • [email protected]



Experts have now established the reason for hundreds of female Cape fur seals aborting their foetuses during the last months of 2020.

The research stems from innumerable aborted foetuses that were found on the beach at Pelican Point near Walvis Bay and at beaches along the central Namibian coastline.

“Samples taken from the dead seal pups showed no trace of toxins or diseases,” the environmental organisation Ocean Conservation Namibia said.

Experts therefore assume that unusual weather conditions such as the strong La Niña cycle could have impaired the movement of pelagic fish –seals’ main food source. Researchers assume that pregnant seals were severely malnourished and most likely aborted to protect themselves.

“Records from the past 30 years show that such mass extinctions occurred in the past during the same weather pattern,” the researchers say.

According to the Namibia Dolphin Project (NDP), Cape fur seals are among the most abundant marine mammals on the coast of South Africa and Namibia, where they are endemic. During the peak of the whelping season – between mid-November and early December – the female animals give birth to thousands of cubs almost simultaneously.

In 2020, however, an exceptionally high number of emaciated females were observed on land in Namibia.

Naudé Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia found some dead seal foetuses on the beach for the first time in August and September, and by October there were hundreds.

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