Seals' night attacks drive off island gannets

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Subject: Seals' night attacks drive off island gannets
From: knightl <>
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006 17:41:47 +1000 index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20060103091315564C405378

Seals' night attacks drive off island gannets

    Melanie Gosling
    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 said.

This was approved by MCM's ethics committee.

Tourists' recent comments in the Bird Island visitors' book reflect their disappointment.

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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