Seal strandings: the rescue process and what you can do to help

Posted on 11 January 2022 By Taylah Strauss

Seal strandings are unfortunately a common occurrence in South Africa. Strandings mostly occur during weaning season – between October and January – when seal pups need to fend for themselves. They can become malnourished and swim ashore to rest in inappropriate places.

This poses a significant risk to both the seal and the public. Despite their docile appearance, seals can be ferocious when they are injured or feel threatened and may be prompted to defend themselves. This is why seal strandings should be left to professionals. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) have several protocols in place to deal with these incidents, and it’s important to know how they work, and what to do and what not to do.

Picture: NSRI

First, the situation is assessed. If the seal is not injured and it’s an adult, it likely came ashore to rest. The seal is typically translocated to a quieter beach where it can relax undisturbed until it wishes to return to the water. Seal pups are often malnourished and weak, and they get transported to Bayworld for further treatment.

If a disentanglement is required and it can be done on-site, the team will do so and keep the necessary equipment out of the seal’s way. If the team cannot move the seal, they will cordon off the area by putting up tape and ‘Do not disturb’ signs. Volunteers are also posted nearby to keep people and dogs away.

What can you do to help?

Picture: Steven Benjamin

If you find a seal on a beach, do not under any circumstances handle it. This applies to any marine animal in distress.

If you come across a distressed marine animal in the Southern and Eastern Cape – from Mossel Bay to the KZN border – call the Bayworld Stranding Hotline – 071 724 2122.

Other numbers to keep on hand:

  • Cape: The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation: 083 300 1663
  • KZN: uShaka Sea World Aquarium: 031 328 8222
  • South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR): 031 328 8222
  • KZN Wildlife: 033 845 1999

Picture: Getaway gallery

If you see a seabird in distress, please contact:

  • Cape: SANCCOB: 021 557 6155 or 078 638 3731 (After Hours)
  • Gqeberha: SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC): 041 583 1830 or 064 019 8936 (After Hours) OR SANCCOB: 082 890 0207 or 064 019 8936 (After Hours)
  • Mossel Bay: Seabird and Penguin Rehabilitation Center (SAPREC): 071 643 2496

Other agencies and people that assist with marine animals and birds include:

  • Southern Cape (from Gouritz to Wilderness): The Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team (SMART), Val Marsh: 072 227 4715
  • Addo Elephant National Park/South African National Parks: 046 653 0601
  • Cannon Rock area: Verona Veltman: 083 654 9976 / Lana Cummings: 083 267 5198
  • Port Alfred & surrounds: Willem Nel (Ndlambe Municipality) 082 388 4600


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