My new favourite animal: the cape fur seal

Hundreds of animals on the beach at Cape Cross, Namibia

My new favourite animal: the cape fur seal
4th March 2007 Jane Tomlinson

The cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) is, in fact, as kind of sea lion, not a seal.

But who cares of such taxonomic detail when you can get this close to them?

They inhabit the cold waters around south west Africa and appear to be doing very well, thank you very much, despite being ‘harvested’ at one of their breeding grounds at Cape Cross, where we first saw them, for their skins, the rest of the animal being turned into protein sludge used for cattle feed. People apparently object to the fact the seals eat ‘too many fish’. What they really mean is they take fish that we as superior humans should have access to first. So a trade in seals is legal.

Anyway, enough about the horrible exploitation of these beautiful wild animals, and onto some nice pictures of them. Here’s one to start you off.

Nothing relaxes quite like a seal…

After weeks of sweltering inland temperatures, to sit on the beach at Cape Cross seal colony on the cool and cloudy coast of Namibia was a joy.

With thousands of breeding pairs occupying a small stretch of coast it was a bit stinky (but not half as bad as I’d been warned), and jackals patrolled the colony for recently dead or dying pups. We had so little time here – only 50 minutes – so if I was going to get drawing I’d have to be damned quick. As Moth rushed around taking photos, I started scribbling.

I drew almost without thinking, going from one seal to another.

I completed three pages of sketches…

…which I washed over with paint later that day at the completely marvellous ‘Out of Africa’ coffee shop in Swakopmund (probably the weirdest town I’ve ever visited.)

Next day, we took what was billed as a morning’s ‘dolphin cruise’ out of Walvis Bay. And although we saw a couple of dolphins, the stars of the show were the seals. They kept jumping onto the boat to beg for fish from the captain, Ingo. Ingo knew each individual animal and had given them names. The eight or so animals we met all had unique characters and didn’t mind being touched and prodded by 20 or more tourists on a small boat in return for some free fish.

It was a wonderful opportunity to examine their physiology close up…

Check out those fingernails on each flipper

We saw other wildlife too. The pelicans also wanted fish and squadrons of them flew alongside the boat ready to catch any fish thrown skywards by Ingo.

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