Entries in seals (3)
Photo courtesy of Ashley Coates
That’s right, David is back on our screens on the 26th of this month to bring us another stunning wildlife series; Frozen Planet. Little snippets of this series have been released to the media and general public over the past few days and it looks to be just as cool as the locations it's set in! A few species have already made an appearance in wildlife news recently such as crafty killer whales and thieving penguins. To get us all in the mood for the new series, here is a mini food chain detailing why some species make good predators and why some make tasty prey!
Polar bears are one of the apex predators within this food chain. Males are very large and can reach up to 350 – 680 kg and 7.9 – 9.8 ft. in length, with females measuring half that length. Because of their large size, it makes it possible for them to smash into ice dens of seals and tear into prey easily. This is assisted by shorter claws on their feet and their extremely large paws, which can measure approximately 30cm across! Their keen sense of smell also helps them when hunting prey. Polar bears are able detect unburied seals from nearly 1 mile away and buried seals under 3 ft. of snow!
Killer whales are another apex predator that drift in and out of the icy waters surrounding Antarctica and the Artic. They have a varied diet depending on which subspecies they are and their geographical location. Killer whales make excellent predators due to their high intelligence and ability to work as a team. Just recently, new images of killer whales working together to knock a seal off of an ice float have been released. A team of killer whales will rush towards an ice float causing a wave to appear that is powerful enough to knock an unsuspecting seal into the mouth of another member of their pod. They work together like this in many clever hunting situations displaying team work that some think is reinforced by their own ‘culture.’
Weddell seals are the preferred prey of apex predators as they are not as aggressive as crabeater and leopard seals, so the chance of injury by them is not as likely. Weddell seals measure between 8.2 - 11.5 ft. long and can weigh between 400 – 600kg. They are insulated with a thick layer of blubber which not only keeps them warm, but also attracts predators. Their energy rich blubber is vital for them to stay alive because food is so hard to come by. The weddell seal does have a few tricks for avoiding gaping jaws, which are also used when hunting for their own prey. They can dive to depths of approximately 2,300 ft. and can hold their breath for around 80 minutes! That’s a very long time to play hider or seeker!
The Frozen Planet team filmed the Adélie penguin stealing stones from neighbour’s nests to put in their own. Unfortunately for them, penguins make a tasty snack for seals and killer whales (but without the wrapper and bad joke – if you exclude that one!) Penguins may make up the bulk of a predators diet perhaps due to their sheer numbers, making them easier to locate. In the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, there are currently around 5 million Adélie penguins! This may make them an attractive option for many in such a harsh environment.
With these species featured (and I’m sure a lot more) together with the great camerawork from the BBC, I know what I will be doing on Wednesday nights!
By Haley Dolton
A new study comparing two extreme opposite industries in Namibia, seal hunting and seal watching, has been commissioned by a group of animal welfare organisations including The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Humane Society International (HSI). The study, entitled ‘The economics of seal hunting and seal watching in Namibia’ was published by Economists at Large, an independent economics consultancy based in Australia.
The innovative study produced some significant and interesting results. Mark Jones, executive director of HSI UK said, “The Namibian authorities have long defended the seal slaughter on the grounds that it generates money and jobs, but this report shows that it could actually be damaging to the economy”.
After a thorough analysis of the two practices, including a comparison of the most recent financial figures available for both industries, the report concluded that seal watching is worth about 300 per cent more than seal hunting. In 2008 alone, the seal hunt generated only £300,000 while seal watching made £1.2 million in direct tourism expenditure over the same time period. Seal watching also proved to deliver benefits to a far wider range of the Namibian economy, helping boost other aspects of tourism such as hotels and restaurants.
When analysing the two markets, the economists considered the benefits attached to each part of the trade. It was found that bull seals accounted for a large proportion of the hunter’s profits as their genitalia are sold in Asian markets for aphrodisiac qualities, receiving £85 per kilogram. Seal pups also attract hunters as they proved easy to catch and kill, with hunters making approximately £4 per pelt. On the other hand, tourism increased in the area as people flock to watch seal colonies in their natural habitat, with seal pups being the main attraction.
The report concluded that even though the Namibian seal watching industry has increased in popularity and has brought in substantial profits, it is threatened by the annual seal slaughter that takes place between the 1st of July and the 15th of November. Hundreds of tourists a day take pleasure in watching seals frolic in reserves and along coastlines that only a few hours before were the setting for scenes of a very different and brutal nature.
Claire Bass, WSPA International Oceans Campaign Leader said, “eco-tourism is a growing part of Namibia’s identity, but tourists will be shocked to find out that a seal they photograph one day may be killed the next morning. There is a clear economic case for the government to protect these animals.”
This low yield trade in seal slaughter could be disastrous for the reputation of Namibia and the eco-tourism companies that offer visits to see these vulnerable animals. Large scale killing, particularly the targeting of bulls, could lead to a collapse of seal populations, having a devastating impact on both an economic and conservation level.
WSPA ambassador Leona Lewis said, “No price would ever be high enough to justify the killing of these harmless animals. This country has so much natural beauty to offer tourists, why allow this brutal practise to tarnish its reputation forever?”