21 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Seals vs the Beach Wolf

The biggest colony of seals I ever encountered was along the West Coast, in diamond mining territory.

I immediately thought this must be paradise for them. In decades gone by, seals could only live on islands. Their clumsiness on land meant they were easy prey for lions and hyenas. But humans have taken away predators to a large extent, and now the seals are living comfortably on West Coast beaches, their populations expanding.

But because the area has been left alone for so long, the natural order is asserting itself. There are two things limiting the seal population from rocketing. Firstly, the seas before them are being heavily fished, so they don’t have infinite supplies of food any more.

Secondly, the jackals and brown hyenas are making a good living off the seal population, so a level of natural predation is starting to be re-established.

The brown hyena is an interesting beast. Unlike the spotted hyena (the baddy in the Lion King) the brown hyena can live in very dry areas, like the Kalahari and the Karoo. It also thrives on the leavings of the West Coast beaches, trotting along and examining the flotsam and jetsam. A shark’s egg here, an opened mussel there. Locals call it the strandwolf - the beach wolf.

The sea mist clots its coat, which becomes matted. In fact, from a distance it looks like a slope-backed long-haired German shepherd. It is the mortal enemy of all shore-based seals, which have an understandable dread of being caught on the outside ring furthest from the sea.

So perhaps life for Kleinzee seals is not so very idyllic after all.

Category: Wildlife

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