Underwatertimes.com News Service - July 5, 2006 23:00 EST

About 60,000 Cape fur seal pups will be stabbed or clubbed to death this year during Namibia's annual sealing season.

From July to mid-November, 7,000 bulls will also be culled [killed] in what is claimed to be the second largest seal harvest in the world.

An international campaign, led by conservation group Seal Alert SA, is currently underway in an attempt to ban seal harvesting in Namibia, as was done in South Africa in 1990.

"If Namibia and South Africa's Cape fur seals are the same species, why is the population not being managed as such under one policy?" asked Francois Hugo of Seal Alert SA.

In the United States, the stabbing and clubbing of nursing pups was prohibited in 1972 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and all imports of Cape fur seal products were banned.

In Namibia, seal pups that are still nursing are the chief target for culling.

According to Hugo, female seals are not culled, as they have no commercial value.

The unnatural increase in the female breeding population was thus caused by human interference, said Hugo in a letter distributed to all relevant institutions in Namibia as well as concerned conservationists across the globe.

The sealing quota in Namibia is shared between only two concession holders on two mainland colonies, Cape Cross and Atlas Bay, where 75% of the seal population is born.

According to an investigation by Seal Alert SA, the entire season brings part-time employment to less than 160 unskilled migrant workers and in 2000, when 42,000 seals were culled, the commercial value was less than U$3 per seal.

Starvation caused by overfishing led to two mass die-offs since 1990, during which one-third to half of the seal population starved to death, said Hugo.

Shortly after the 2000 harvest, which saw Namibia double its sealing quota to 60,000 seal pups, the mass starvation of 300,000 seals was announced, added Hugo.

Despite that, the sealing season was extended since sealers were only able to harvest less than half the quota.

Since then, hardly any information regarding the seal population, quotas and die-offs had been made public, he said.

According to Hugo, the Namibian Government offered the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) an opportunity to buy out the two sealers in Namibia to finally end the culling.

The offer was rejected.