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Namibian seals wanted: Alive, not dead

Aug 31, 2011

Seal pup and mother on the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. This was the only mother-pup pair left after the slaughter that morning – hundreds of seals were still in the sea.

A comprehensive study on ‘The economics of seal hunting and seal watching in Namibia’ commissioned by international animal welfare organizations, including WSPA, demonstrates that seals are worth far more alive than dead.

The report was produced by Economists at Large, an Australia-based independent economics consultancy commissioned by a group of animal welfare organizations Bont voor Dieren (BvD), Humane Society International (HSI), Respect for Animals (RFA) and WSPA.

Comparing the most recent figures available for both industries, the report concludes that even though the Namibian seal watching tourism industry is increasing in popularity and bringing in large profits, it is being threatened by the annual Namibian seal slaughter, which nets Namibia far less in real profit. In 2008, for instance, the seal hunt generated only $513,000 while seal watching generated a whopping $2 million in direct tourism expenditure in the same period.

When told about the new report, 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 practice to tarnish its reputation forever?

Convincing comparisons

The economists’ claim, that seal watching is worth 300 percent more than seal hunting, is based on a thorough analysis of the two practices. The report provides a detailed insight into both industries, in order to compare the costs and benefits presented by each.

When analyzing seal slaughter, the economists considered the monetary benefits attached to each part of the trade. They found that bull seals account for a large proportion of the profits attached to the seal kills, as their penises are sold in Asian markets for alleged aphrodisiac qualities, at approximately $62 per pound. The seal pups are killed for their fur, with each pelt sold for as little as $5.70.

Contrasting cruelty with beauty

Around 200 seal pups are killed each day for the fur industry – the same colony visited by the tourists.

In contrast with the hunt, seal watching is proving to be a reliable revenue-generator. As many as ten percent of tourists that visit Namibia – just over 100,000 in 2008 – have paid for the pleasure of watching seals in their natural habitat. Based on current growth trends, the report predicts that by 2016 as many as 175,000 tourists will participate in seal watching, generating close to $3.2 million in direct revenues.

Seal watching also allows a far wider range of Namibian society to benefit from the trade, as the growth of seal watching helps boost tourism support services such as hotels and restaurants.

Seal slaughter – a risk to seal watching

Apart from the risk to Namibia’s reputation, seal slaughter poses a real threat to the far more lucrative seal watching industry; large scale killing could lead to a collapse of seal populations, as witnessed in the 1990s.

Incongruously, the seal watching takes place on the very same beaches where the killing is allowed: Cape Cross, Atlas Bay and Wolf Bay. During the hunt season, from July 1 to November 15, hundreds of baby seals are clubbed to death between dawn and 8 a.m. at Cape Cross, a ‘Seal Reserve’. At 10 a.m., the same beach opens as a seal watching attraction and hundreds of tourists flood in.

The hunts have been deliberately hidden from tourists’ view for years but as they become increasingly exposed via the media and internet there’s a significant risk that wildlife-loving tourists will find it distasteful to visit these doomed seals on their holidays, which would be disastrous for Namibian eco-tour companies.

Each year up to 85,000 baby seals are killed in Namibia to make just a few dollars from their furs; this report highlights that they would be worth so much more to the Namibian economy alive. Eco-tourism is a growing part of Namibia’s identity but tourists will be shocked to find 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,” said Claire Bass, WSPA International Oceans Campaign Leader.

Read the report on ‘The economics of seal hunting and seal watching in Namibia

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