As a poor, undeveloped country, Namibia places high priority on the use of renewable natural resources, among them seals.
It is also desperate for food, and an important source is the sea. According to the Bank of Namibia's annual report for 2006, the fishing industry contributed 5% of the country's GDP in 2005. Yet according to officials, seals are consuming 800,000 tonnes of fish a year. Sealing is therefore endorsed by the government also as a means of population control.
Today, Namibia has the world's second-largest sealing hunt after Canada.
Everything from the animals is used. Some of the meat is dried for human consumption and some is used along with bone meal for cattle feed. The oil is used as a supplement to cattle feed and as a raw material in the pharmaceutical industry. The skins are used partly as furs and partly as leather. The bullsí penises are exported to the Far East where they are dried and used in traditional medicine.
The hunt runs from July 1 to Nov. 15, and takes place at two breeding colonies: Namibia's largest at Cape Cross, and at Wolf/Atlas Bay. Between them, these two colonies account for some 75% of pups born. Only old bulls and pups from 6-10 months old are taken.
The hunt employs some 150 seasonal workers.
Annual quotas are set by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. Media coverage of the hunt is not allowed, but the Wildlife Society of Namibia attends as an observer.
Periodically, Cape fur seals undergo mass die-offs and abortions resulting from starvation due to a shortage of fish in Namibian waters. Their preferred diet in these waters is pilchards, which sometimes become scarce for reasons that are unclear. Some experts have attributed the lack of pilchards to an overabundance of jellyfish, which consume pilchard eggs.
In recent history, die-offs were recorded in 1988, 1989, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2006. One of the more extreme was in 1994, when 200,000 seals died out of a population estimated at the time at 800,000.
Harvest / quotas:
1994: 55,000 pups, 12,000 bulls.
1995 (quota): 17,450.
1996 (quota): 20,500.
1997: 26,000 pups, 4,000 bulls.
1998 (quota): 35,000 pups, 5,000 bulls.
2000 (quota): 60,000 pups, 7,000 bulls.
2006 (quota): 85,000.
2007 - 2009 (quota): 80,000 pups, 6,000 bulls per year.