Seals' night attacks drive off island gannets
January 03 2006 at 12:28PM
Bird Island at Lambert's Bay on South Africa's West Coast, normally
home to more than 30 000 gannets, is utterly deserted after seals began
attacking the colony at night and eating these endangered birds.
Now Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) has issued permits for the
bird-eating seals to be shot.
Between 200 and 300 breeding adult gannets have been killed by seals.
The rest, frightened by the night attacks, have left the island and no
one knows where they have gone.
The seal attacks have also indirectly affected tourism in the small
town as the gannet colony and bird hide were a major tourist attraction.
'We thought it could be seals'
While seals have always preyed on seabirds to some extent, staff of MCM
and CapeNature, which manages Bird Island, say they have not before
seen seal predation that has had such a devastating effect.
Anton Wolfaardt, West Coast ecologist at CapeNature, said yesterday:
"When gannet and cormorant chicks fledge and go into the water, some
are taken by seals. But this year one of our guys found adult gannets
that had died of bite wounds.
"We thought it could be seals, but had to be sure, because the island
is linked to the mainland by a causeway and it could have been some
mammal, like genets. It seemed to be happening at night so we got some
of our security guards to sit in the hide and keep watch and they
actually saw the seals coming onto the island and preying on the birds.
"During one week, 150 adult birds were found dead. The seals' night
predation caused a huge disturbance and the gannets all left. Then the
gulls came in and scavenged the gannet eggs.
"A few weeks later, in mid-December, the gannets returned and tried to
breed again, but the same thing happened. Now they've obviously given
up on breeding for this year and have left. The island is deserted and
we've lost an entire year's gannet chicks from this island."
'The island is deserted'
Wolfaardt said only one seal had been shot on Bird Island. Only those
seals that were seen preying on the gannets would be killed. It
appeared that it was only a few of the about 3 500 seals around the
island that were killing gannets.
Mike Meyer of MCM said yesterday it was unusual for the seals to come
into the bird colony at night.
"The seals have caused absolute chaos. The gannets abandoned their eggs
and left the island the first time, but when it happened the second
time, they obviously thought 'I'm outta here!'
"We had to do something because the gannets are endangered and the
seals are not and the seals are beginning to take over the island, so
we've issued permits to shoot those seals that take gannets," Meyer
This was approved by MCM's ethics committee.
Tourists' recent comments in the Bird Island visitors' book reflect
Irma Knipe of Stellenbosch wrote: "A crying shame. After 40 years of
masses of birds, this sight can make one cry. Has nature conservation
also become extinct?"
Michel Clement of the Comoros wrote: "If you came for the seals, that's
the right place. If you came for the gannets, how depressing."
This article was originally published on page 3 of Cape Times on
January 03, 2006
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