Saving Seals – Cutting plastic off our seals
Back in September 2019, I got a phone call from Claire Taylor (Two Oceans Aquarium Assistant Curator) asking me to come document a new Cape Fur seal disentanglement procedure – In-water sedation using tranquillisers for problematic Fur seals in need of medical treatment. “Yes, absolutely” I replied… and the journey had started.
A phenomenally passionate vet, Dr Brett Gardner, had travelled from Australia to train the multi-organisation team. He perfected the technique on marine mammals abroad, and was excited to be the first to use this method on Cape Fur seals in South Africa. I was extremely honoured and intrigued to see the process and be part of a team and to witness this being done for the first time.
The training program was brought on by a desperation to find a new method to disentangle Fur seals. These seals are constantly exposed to plastic snares in their environment this leads to a slow horrendous painful death if not removed. For years Claire, Vincent Calder and other aquarium staff have been manually cutting the plastic off the next of the seals. Using ingenious techniques to catch the seals off guard and quickly remove snares, but there is some seals that are just not approachable. They will never allow people to get close and help them. Claire was desperate to find a way to save these cautious seals in trouble.
Brett was called and he gratefully came down to train the multi-organisational assembly of people interested in further helping our seals (list at end). I joined along for a few days and filmed training week and Animal Ocean provided our boats when the team came to Hout Bay harbour.
But during this process I realise that this was only half of the story.The real story was the passion of the people who started disentangling seals at the aquarium many years ago, and all the seals they have saved since then.
Over the next few months we set about interviewing and just getting shots to tell that part of the story. As this was my first time editing a short story like this, it took me a long time to get the story straight in my head and find a way to tell it on the screen.
A few times I went down with Claire to try film her disentangling in action underwater but the seals were absent but we eventually we got Claire and the seals and the cutting hook in the same place at the same time.
About a year and a half into the project disaster struck when my hard drives were stolen in an armed robbery. A major blow to the project, at that point I didn’t know if it would continue, or if I’ll be able to find the footage again and get the film out. I was completely disheartened because so many people were expecting their story to be told and I didn’t have the footage, it appeared to be lost.
I contacted Brian Little out of desperation and he gladly agreed to help me as much as possible we had some previously rendered footage, not the original, but we thought we could do something with that and re-shoot some things. Luckily, after my panic had subsided, I kept searching and managed to find a backup copy deeply embedded on a spare hard drive. Brian set upon the task of pulling the film together, weaving the narrative, and brought the story to life in a way that I could never have.
It’s been a long process to get to this point and we hope that you are able to experience the passion that the Two Oceans Aquarium has for disentangling Cape fur Seals and all the work that Claire Taylor and Vince Calder have done over the years, it’s really something to highlight.
Organisations involved –
- Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation
- Two Oceans Aquarium
- Department of Fishery Forestry and Environment
- V&A Waterfront
- City of Cape Town
- Dr. Brett Gardner
- Aquavet Africa
- Cape Exotic Animal Hospital
- Bayworld PE
- Rockhopper Tours
- Wildlife Pharmaceuticals