Annual seal hunting in Namibia criticized “penises sold as aphrodisiacs”

Small seal on sand looking into the camera
Cape fur seal pup at Cape Cross, Namibia, photo: Lennjo via Canva

Namibia’s government has come under renewed fire for its annual cull of Cape fur seals. The cull takes place between July and November, when about 80,000 pups and 8,000 adult males are clubbed to death. 

Although it did not respond directly to requests for comment, it is understood the Namibian government sees the cull as necessary to manage seal numbers and protect fish. 

About half of the world’s estimated 1.5 million to 2 million Cape fur seals, also known as brown fur seals, are found in Namibia, said Yvonne Taylor, corporate projects director with the animal welfare organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

Taylor said that both the fishing and overpopulation arguments used to support the cull were invalid. 

“The Namibian government tries to justify the shameful hunt by falsely claiming that there is a seal overpopulation problem and that seals are responsible for the depletion of fish stocks, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Taylor told The Animal Reader in an email. 

“Seal populations have drastically reduced in recent years because of starvation, and studies have shown that overfishing is to blame for the decline in fish numbers,” she said. 

Last October, about 7,000 seal pups were found washed up on Namibia’s beaches, thought to have died from starvation, suggesting the seals are already struggling to survive.

The cull, said Taylor, is rather for profit. “The market for baby seals’ fur and adult males’ fur and penises – sold as an aphrodisiac in parts of Asia – is the driving force behind the increase in the number of seals allowed to be killed.” 

Captain Pete Bethune, founder of Earthrace Conservation, who has witnessed the cull, said it “remains the most harrowing thing I’ve ever witnessed.” Bethune filmed the seal cull near the Namibian town of Luderitz in 2012. 

Describing the process to The Animal Reader, he said about “a dozen men chase seal pups up the hill” into small pens made of rocks. “A man stands at the top where the seals are all trying to get by to get back to their mothers.”

“He allows maybe 20-30 baby seals at a time to pass, and they go down hill to the waiting seal clubbers. The seals are clubbed on the head and thrown in a pile. Then the next lot is allowed down. And so on,” Bethune said.

Bethune witnessed around 300 seal pups get killed in 30 minutes. 

The clubbing process affects the rest of the colony too, said Hanna Rhodin of the Namibian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because the seals scatter, meaning that even pups left alive can be separated from their mothers. 

Even if the argument about protecting fish populations were valid, Bethune said it was something the world needed to get over. “Seals eat fish. That’s what they do. We need to get over it.” 

Instead, he said, fishing needs to be “managed in a way that is sustainable and with the presence of seals. Namibia needs to accept seals are part of a healthy ecosystem.”

Taylor said she believes public opinion is turning against Namibia’s sealskin industry. “Recent reports indicate that one of Namibia’s three seal-processing factories is struggling to stay afloat because of a lack of demand for these cruelly produced items,” she wrote.

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