The Mysterious Death Of Thousands Of Sea Lion Pups That
Environment

The mysterious death of thousands of sea lion pups that alarms scientists

The beaches of Namibia have been filled with deceased pups, an estimated 5,000, but the reason for now is unknown.

Several specimens of fur seals gather at Pelican Point, Namibia.

At the end of each year, the Cape fur seals welcome their new pups on time to ensure the generational renewal of the colonies in southern Africa. This 2020, however, the beaches of Namibia have been filled with thousands of calves died by abortion that alarm scientists. The problem began to be detected last August, but until now in Spain the event was unknown.

The alarms are sounding, specifically, in the area of ​​the Namibian town of Walvis Bay, in the colony of 50,000 individuals that inhabits the Pelican Point peninsula. In that area alone, members of the conservation organizations Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) and the Namibian Dolphin Project estimate that “thousands” of abortions and deaths of premature offspring.

Their corpses litter the sand on the beach, waiting for the tides or the jackals to wash them away, and the great fear is that the phenomenon that is killing the babies of Pelican Point will spread to other places – or is already present. -, at a time when travel and scientific research have become very complicated by blame for the Covid-19 pandemic.Due to these dynamics, now “it is very difficult to say with certainty the number” of deaths, Tess Gridley, co-director of the Namibian Dolphin Project, told the Efe agency, but estimates to date point to some 5,000 only in Pelican Point and The reason, at the moment, is unknown.“We are being very cautious when talking about specific causal factors. There are many reasons why there could be an abortion incident,” Gridley said, listing possible examples such as the presence of some bacteria, contamination, malnutrition or a combination of different factors.

Cape Wolves

South African fur seals or Cape wolves (Arctocephalus pusillus) are mammals very similar to seals, from which they differ by features such as the presence of small ears.Lying lazily on the sand when on land but capable of diving up to 200 meters into the water to search for food, it is estimated that on the Atlantic coasts, from South Africa to Angola, inhabit about 1.7 million specimens.

Nor they have, therefore, great conservation risks beyond the presence of fishing to guarantee their food. In Namibia they are also a great natural and tourist asset from the extensive beaches where the wet sand turns into desert in just a few meters.As can happen with humans, if the mothers of these marine mammals experience any health problem or, for example, if a poor diet reduces their levels of body fat necessary to survive, these are inconveniences that can lead to termination of their pregnancies.Because the species adopts, Gridley described, a seasonal mating “strategy” with “simultaneous birth” of offspring at the end of each year, it is possible that all pregnant females in a colony may be affected by “the same condition” or the same “agent” that triggers mass abortions.In fact, there was already such a phenomenon in 1994, when 10,000 specimens died and 15,000 fetuses were aborted due to starvation problems due to lack of fish and indirect infection by a bacterium.

The cause

“Currently what we are trying to get are samples of dead pups, particularly recently dead ones, something that sounds very bad, but is necessary to have really detailed analysis”Gridley said in a phone interview. These samples must be sent to laboratories in Pretoria, the capital of neighboring South Africa, which implies high costs of difficult financing and for which OCN and the Namibian Dolphin Project are collecting donations.The next step will also be to obtain samples of adult specimens to check what problem is attacking the femaless, since some 350 dead specimens have also been seen on the Namibian coast without apparent explanation.The problem began to be detected in August past, when Naudé Dreyer, a marine biologist and co-founder of OCN, began seeing an unusual number of abortions and dead premature calves on the beaches of Pelican Point. The phenomenon has not stopped growing since then, just in coincidence with the final months of the pregnancies of the sea lions.“A certain number of deaths in colonies is a normal and expected part of the life cycle of sea lions. What is worrying here is the high number of abortions and the synchronized timing”Dreyer said in a statement. “The impact of this disappearance on the Pelican Point colony, and possibly further afield, may be felt for years,” the biologist warned.