How to help marine wildlife in distress

 

It’s not uncommon to come across marine wildlife – seabirds, seals, turtles – apparently in distress. This is not always the case, so before you mount a complex and dangerous rescue mission, or try to provide help where none is needed, it may be wise to get an expert on the telephone to help you determine whether it really is necessary. Fortunately there is a range of 24-hour wildlife hotlines to choose from, depending on what species you are dealing with.

Seals

Bull seal with plastic around his neck, in Hout Bay
Bull seal with plastic around his neck, in Hout Bay

Seals with plastic or fishing line around their necks should be reported to the Two Oceans Aquarium (if the seal was spotted around Cape Town harbour or the Waterfront), or, more generally to the SPCA Wildlife Unit on +27 (0) 21 700 4158/4159, or +27 (0) 83 326 1604 after hours and on weekends. Unfortunately the odds are your seal is probably not going to get the help it needs if it isn’t in the port of Cape Town or at the Waterfront; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your darndest to advocate on its behalf.

You can help to deal with this problem at its source by retrieving any loops of plastic that you see floating in the water when you’re on a boat. Hout Bay harbour is a particular cesspit of plastic pollution, and with a nearby seal colony it’s a recipe for disaster. Cutting through any closed loops on plastic items (such as beer can holders) that you recycle or dispose of yourself also ensures that should the plastic end up in the wild, it won’t entangle an animal.

Seals found lying on the beach are usually not in trouble. Juvenile seals may rest for long periods – a couple of days at a time – on shore, and the most important thing to do is not to disturb them. They don’t need to be kept wet, they don’t need to be fed, and they can inflict a nasty bite. Encourage other members of the public to give the animal a wide berth, particularly if they have dogs. Lead by example. If the animal appears visibly unwell (fitting, for example) or is bleeding, then call the SPCA Wildlife Unit for a chat about what course of action is best.

Seabirds

Seabirds are most often found entangled in fishing line or plastic, pierced by fishing hooks, or, in the event of an oil spill, with oiled feathers. It is important to get help if possible, particularly for oiled birds.

SANCCOB has a 24 hour rescue centre which can be reached on +27 (0)21 557 6155 or +27 (0) 78 638 3731 (after hours & weekends). Their website provides the following advice to would-be seabird rescuers:

What to do when you have found an injured/sick/oiled seabird:

  • If you are unable to handle the seabird, SANCCOB will send out a unit to collect the bird.
  • If you approach any seabird, please approach with care. Some seabirds such as Cape Gannets and African Penguins have sharp beaks.
  • Have with you a towel, or blanket and wear protection over your hands and eyes. Use a towel/blanket to throw over the bird to catch it, ensuring that the bird is able to breathe.
  • If you have a large box ensure that there are holes for air before you place the injured/sick marine bird.

More information can be found here.

Turtles

During the autumn and winter months, juvenile and sub-adult sea turtles sometimes strand on Western Cape beaches. These animals are often shocked by the cold and in poor shape – they do not typically occur in Cape waters but are washed down in eddies of the Agulhas current.

Do not put the turtle back in the sea or into water. It is probably weak, dehydrated and hypothermic, and is likely to drown. Keep it dry, and call the Two Oceans Aquarium for further instructions and assistance. The aquarium rehabilitates and releases the turtles in warmer water when they are healthy.

Here’s detailed information from the Two Oceans Aquarium on what to do if you find a stranded turtle. Do the right thing!

Whales and dolphins

The City of Cape Town would like ocean users to report whale carcasses before they end up on the beach. This is mostly for public safety and resource allocation purposes, but if we can do anything to keep a whale carcass out at sea (or on a secluded non-swimming beach), it serves a conservation purpose as well. There’s a phone number you can use to do this – read more here.

If you come across a current or imminent live whale or dolphin stranding, contact the NSRI on +27 (0) 21 449 3500 immediately. They will activate the relevant authorities. Try to bear in mind that these events often do not end well for the animals concerned, as they are often sick or disoriented and impossible to assist. Be a help, not a hindrance, and obey whatever instructions you are given by the NSRI, SanParks, or whoever comes to take charge.

A free-swimming but entangled whale should be immediately reported to the NSRI as well – they will activate the South African Whale Disentanglement Network. Do not attempt to assist the whale yourself – this could be fatal for you (not the whale) – rather make a note of the direction it is swimming, and its precise location, and whatever other helpful information you can provide. Whale entanglements seem to be increasing in frequency around False Bay in particular, as more experimental fisheries are approved. (If this worries you, you could write a letter to DAFF about it.)

The Seli 1 falls over (a bit)

The Seli 1 on Sunday 2 September 2012
The Seli 1 on Sunday 2 September 2012

During the storm on Friday evening 31 August, the midsection of the Seli 1, where the cranes were, toppled over. An oil slick emerged from the wreck. The photo in this article shows the slick, and how the middle part of the wreck has moved out of alignment with the rest of the vessel.

The removal of the vessel is delayed by National Treasury’s failure to give a timeous decision regarding allocation of funds. I know you’re suprised by this.

Faint oil smears on the beach at Blouberg
Faint oil smears on the beach at Blouberg

When we drove out to see the wreck, most of the oil had been cleaned up, but the area was still cordoned off and kite surfers were not allowed in the water. The chief concern seems to be that seabirds will be fouled by the oil. There are nearby nature reserves with rich bird life, and Robben Island could also be affected. SANCCOB is on standby.

Sun starting to set over the wreck
Sun starting to set over the wreck

Prior Seli 1 updates from Shipwreck Patrol can be found here, here, here, and here.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Seli 1, 2, 3…

The Seli 1 on 11 September 2011
The Seli 1 on 11 September 2011

I’ve posted a couple of times about the Seli 1, a recent shipwreck off Blouberg that I am sure is hated by the owners of expensive homes overlooking the beach. The wreck is, however, loved by local divers (it’s only been dived a couple of times to my knowledge), surfers and kite surfers – the latter because it has caused sand to build up in a way that is extremely favourable to wave generation in front of the wreck!

The Seli 1 at Blouberg
The Seli 1 at Blouberg

A storm in early September caused the wreck to break into three pieces, and along with that a minor oil spill which was fairly quickly dealt with. SANCCOB received a couple of oiled seabirds. Why the oil wasn’t removed from the wreck during the initial salvage efforts is a mystery.

These photos were taken on 11 September 2011.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Journal: African Journal of Marine Science

The journal contents and abstracts can be found on the National Inquiry Services Centre (NISC) website. Most of the articles require paid subscription to access them, but there are some freely available:

I would caution against subscribing as an individual, because the subscription fee levied will be for a full calendar year, regardless of when you subscribe. If you do decide to subscribe, be sure to do it via NISC if you’re a South African.

Gift ideas for Christmas

Anyone who’s had the misfortune to set foot in a shopping mall lately will be aware that Christmas decorations are out, and Christmas shopping is in full swing.

If you have a diver, or potential diver, in your life, getting them something to do with their hobby as a Christmas or Hannukah gift is a good idea. Lucky for you, Learn to Dive Today has suggestions for all budgets!

Under R300

Check out the bookshelf category for book ideas, and the movies and documentaries categories for DVD gift ideas.

Under R1000

What about a Discover Scuba Diving gift voucher from Learn to Dive Today? The Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) experience is designed for people who have never dived before, and want to try it out – perhaps before committing to a full Open Water course, or perhaps just for the experience.

Discover Scuba Diving voucher
Discover Scuba Diving voucher

You’ll meet at the beach, have a short briefing explaining the gear and basic dive principles and safety, and then go in the water. Tony will teach you a couple of essential skills – very basic things like mask clearing – and then you go for a dive. That way you get to experience what it’s like to be a diver, first hand, to see if the bug bites!

If you enjoy the dive and want to take it further, you can get the cost of the DSD credited towards your Open Water course.

If you want to order a voucher, email Tony.

Over R1000

Can I get on your Christmas list?! You might find possible gifts in the Gadgets and Gear category – from dive gear to cameras…

Any budget

Have you considered making a donation to the organisation of your choice – Reach for  a Dream, the NSRI, or SANCCOB for example – on behalf of your gift recipient? This is a very special gift that has the potential to do a lot of good in this world that so badly needs it, and impacts more than just the people giving and receiving the gift.

Who to follow

twitter

So I am sick in bed today while Tony enjoys the sea and southeaster with students. In the absence of my diving fix, I have to rely on the Internet to feed my currently short attention span. Enter Twitter.

To me, Twitter incorporates my favourite feature of Facebook – constant stream of bite-sized news and views – and leaves out all the other guff (Farmville, Zombie Vampire Slayers, Are You Feeling Hot Today?).

It’s not all about socialising and keeping up with your online friends… It’s also useful for news, activism, and informative updates from individuals and organisations whose work interests you. If you want to beef up the list of users you’re following, check out our “followees”!

Diving

Learn to Dive Today: @learn2divetoday (of course!)

PADI: @PADI

South Africa

SANCCOB – the organisation that rescues, cleans and protects our coastal birds: @SANCCOB

Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town: @2oceansaquarium

Shark Spotters for reports of shark activity in False Bay: @SharkSpotters

World Wildlife Foundation South Africa: @WWFSouthAfrica

Conservation & Agencies

NOAA’s National Ocean Service: @usoceangov

NOAA’s Ocean Explorer educational program: @oceanexplorer

Project Aware – conservation agency by divers: @projectaware

Save Our Seas: @saveourseas

World Wildlife Foundation: @WWF

Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society: @whales_org

NASA (they do ocean exploration too!): @NASA

Ocean Information Center (OCEANIC) at the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment: @oceandata

The Smithsonian Institute: @smithsonian

Smithsonian Ocean Portal: @oceanportal

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (because everyone can do with a bit of radical extremism to spice things up now and then!): @seashepherd

Ocean Conservancy: @OurOcean

Ocean Institute: @oceaninstitute

Oceana: @oceana

Photography

Bonica Snapper video cameras (the manufacturers of Tony’s newish toy): @bonicahddv

Fiona Ayerst, underwater photographer who offers courses: @Fayerst

Orms (more awesome camera equipment, knowledgeable sales staff and a top-notch D&P facility): @OrmsdDirect

SA Camera (very reasonably priced photographic equipment, including underwater housings): @SAcamera

Scott Kelby, author of fantastic photography books: @scottkelby

Writing & Television

National Geographic: @NatGeoSociety

Urban Times Oceans: @UT_Oceans

The Guardian Environment section: @guardianeco

PBS NOVA will keep you up to date with science news and cool gadgets: @novapbs

Newsletters you should be subscribed to

As a veteran newsletter subscriber, and someone who actually ENJOYS getting them in my inbox (not everyone does) – probably a sad reflection on my self esteem, that I need to request people to email me! – I can offer you the following hints for signing up:

  • Some websites have a Subscribe box on their front page. Use it!
  • The other place to look for a subscription option is on the Contact page.
  • If there’s no explicit newsletter link, it’s often worth dropping the site owner an email asking to be subscribed to their newsletter if they have one. If they don’t, perhaps they’ll take the hint and start something up…

You can get subscribed to Tony’s newsletter by emailing him. It tells you about planned dives and courses, as well as report backs on recent underwater activity.

If that’s not enough, check out the following newsletter writers:

Cape Town

Keep up with what’s going on at the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront by signing up for their newsletter. They have regular concerts, conservation activities, and other special events at the aquarium.

Chris and Monique Fallows at Apex Predators run shark cage diving and photography trips to Seal Island. We haven’t done a trip yet – wanted to go in high shark season but this year it corresponded with high World Cup tourist season, so we’ll do it next year – but their detailed updates on the marine activity in False Bay are awesome… Sightings of of orcas, dolphins, whales and sharks abound, and Chris’s photos are amazing.

Diving

PADI sends out newsletters periodically, describing diving destinations, certification options, and other bits and bobs related to scuba diving. Depending on which box you ticked when you registered for your course, you may already be on their mailing list.

Magazines

The Dive Site is South Africa’s best diving magazine. By a LONG way. And that’s after only one issue! They send out a weekly newsletter by email filled with photos, blogs, competitions and event notifications, and if you haven’t managed to get a print subscription to the magazine, it’s available on their website in digital format.

African Diver Magazine is an online-only magazine published once a quarter. If you join their mailing list, you’ll get a notification when the new edition is released.

Conservation & Volunteering

South African

If you’re using the ocean at all, whether as a diver, surfer, beachgoer or sailor, you should be supporting the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). They are staffed entirely by volunteers and do amazing work. It costs R100 per year to be a member, and you get a cool magazine every quarter. They also have a newsletter.

SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) is in the news every time an oil spill gets on the feathers of our cormorants and penguins. They are a non-profit seabird conservation and protection organisation based in Cape Town. There is a volunteer program if you want to get your hands dirty (and get nipped!). They have a newsletter.

Conservation and shark specialty diver training body SharkLife has a newsletter – look for the link in the left column of their site.

Underwater Africa is an advocacy group that liaises with government regarding Marine Protected Areas and the permits we require to dive in them. Register with them to receive updates – this should concern all South African divers.

The South African branch of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has an e-newsletter. They’re the people who run the SASSI initiative – if you don’t know about it, you should!

International

National Geographic has a range of newsletters you can pick and choose from. Their photography in particular is spectacular.

The National Ocean Service is part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and sends out a periodic newsletter. Their educational Ocean Explorer program also has a newsletter.

Project AWARE is all about divers conserving marine environments. They’re an international organisation and it’s well worth getting on their mailing list to stay informed. There’s a Project AWARE specialty course that divers can do.

Ocean Conservancy is the non-profit organisation behind International Coastal Cleanup Day and several other conservation initiatives. Worth keeping up to date with their news.

The Save Our Seas Foundation has a newsletter, but it seems to get sent out VERY irregularly… like once a year. May be worth signing up for, as they do really good work.

The Smithsonian Ocean Portal sends out a newsletter advertising events, updates to their blogs, and covering ocean news. The Smithsonian is a venerable institution that encapsulates almost everything that is interesting about America… Check it out!