Sea Birds and Seals

Hundreds of thousands of seals – mostly pups, between the ages of three weeks to three months – are clubbed to death every year. The prize is their fur pelt, which is why clubbing to the forehead is the preferred form of execution, in order to avoid damaging the pelt. Hunters also sell their blubber, which is used to make oil, and the penises which are a popular ingredient in aphrodisiacs in some Asian markets.1

Seal hunting is illegal in South Africa, thanks to the Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act 1973. In fact, Namibia, which claims to conduct the second largest seal harvest in the world,2 is the only nation in the entire Southern Hemisphere which allows the activity.

The Act is administered by the Minister of Economic Affairs. He can issue permits, and determine a variety of conditions attached to the permit.

A. Permits

  1. It is a criminal offence to pursue, shoot at, kill, capture or intentionally disturb any sea bird3 or seal4 (on one of the islands referred to in B below, or in South African waters) unless under the authority of an exemption, or a permit granted under the Act.5

  2. It is a crime to contravene, or fail to comply with any direction in a permit issued in terms of the Act.6

  3. You commit an offence if you transfer a permit to someone else without the consent of the Minister.7

B. Islands

South African coastal waters have a large number of rock islands which are densely populated with sea birds and seals. These are referenced in Schedules to the Act, and include:

  1. It is a crime to set foot on any one of these islands8 without a permit, or under an exemption granted under the Act.9

  2. It is, similarly, a crime to remain on one of these islands if you do not have a permit or unless it is under an exemption in terms of the Act.10

  3. You may not intentionally damage the eggs of any sea bird upon one of these islands. If you do, it is an offence.11

  4. It is an offence to collect or remove any eggs, feathers, or guano12 from one of these islands without a permit or exemption.13

C. Persons in charge of islands, police officers and boat commanders

  1. These officials can ask anyone on one of the islands, or who is about to go onto one, to furnish his full name and address and the reasons for his presence there or his intentions. It is an offence to refuse or fail to furnish such information.14

  2. If the official has reasonable grounds for suspecting that you need a permit to do what you are doing on an island, or have done, he can ask you to produce it. It is a crime if you fail or refuse to do so, without a lawful reason.15

  3. Also, if the official suspects that anyone on a boat (or vessel of sorts) has committed an offence under the Act, or is about to do so, he can require the commander of the boat to bring it to a standstill. Then, he can board the boat and question every member of the crew for their names and addresses, and require the commander to explain the reasons for the boat’s presence. It is a criminal offence to fail or refuse to comply with any such request.16

  4. That official can seize anything which he has reason to believe has been involved in an offence, and can (without a warrant) also arrest any person on one of the islands if he has reason to suspect that such person has committed an offence. If you resist, or obstruct that official in the performance of his duties or the exercise of his powers – whether in these regards, or at all – you commit an offence.17

  5. NOTE: If any boat (or vessel) has been used in connection with any offence, or any thing in respect of any offence is found or proved to have been upon the boat, any person on board such boat at the time when the offence was committed shall be deemed to be guilty of such offence, unless it is proved that he did not take part in the offence and that he could not have prevented it.18

  1. ‘Return to Canada’s killing fields’. 

  2. Wikipedia – ‘Seal Hunting’

  3. This means as defined in section 1 of the Act. Penguins, pelicans, gulls, ibis and flamingo are included. 

  4. There are various kinds of seals referred to in the definition – see section 1 of the Act. 

  5. Section 3(b) read with section 12(a). 

  6. Section 12(b). 

  7. Section 5(1) read with section 12(a). 

  8. Unless you are performing a duty in terms of the Act. 

  9. Section 3(a) read with section 12(a). 

  10. Section 3(a) read with section 12(a). 

  11. Section 3(c) read with section 12(a). 

  12. Guano is bird droppings. It is used as a fertiliser. 

  13. Section 3(c) read with section 12(a). 

  14. Section 10(1)a read with section 12(c). 

  15. Section 10(1)(b)i read with section 12(c). 

  16. Section 10(1)(b)ii read with section 12(c). 

  17. Section 10(1)(b)iii and iv read with section 12(d). 

  18. Section 13(2).