A fur seal at a the Cape Cross colony in Namibia. (Photo: Getty)
  • More than 7,000 seals may have died on a stretch of Namibian coastline, a conservation group reports.
  • At first, the remains of pups and fetuses were found, but of late there has been a sharp increase in deaths among female seals.
  • Starvation could be the cause of death, but toxins and disease have not been ruled out, Reuters reports.
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More than 7,000 seals are now estimated to have died on a stretch of Namibian beach, a non-profit group Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) told Reuters.

Earlier this month, OCN tweeted an alarming photo, taken by drone, marking dead seal pups on the Pelican Point beach in Walvis Bay:

Pelican Point usually provides a home to up to 50,000 Cape Fur seals, and every year in November and December females give birth to thousands of pups.

When there is a shortage of food, they will often abandon their young or abort their foetuses, The Guardian reports.

Dr Tess Gridley, director of the Namibian Dolphin Project and a fellow at the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University, told the UK publication that dead pups are usually found this time of year – but that this season's deaths have been far higher than normal.

Also, in recent days, there has been a sharp increase in the remains of female seals which have been found, Naudé Dreyer, a marine biologist at OCN, told Reuters.  He added that while they estimate that more than 7,000 seals are dead, their investigations are based on the Pelican Point, and the real number could be higher.

Footage published by Sky News shows 50 dead fetuses in a stretch of 150 metres on the beach.

While OCN has previously said that starvation could be to blame – fish populations may have moved away from the area – toxins or diseases have not been ruled out.

Reuters reports that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources planned to send samples to South Africa for analysis.

A similar mystery recently unfolded in Botswana, where the cause of death of more than 300 elephants confounded experts for many weeks.

In the end, the country’s government blamed the mass die-off on toxins created by algae in watering holes.

Many questions remain, including why only elephants were affected. But with evidence that fits the neurological symptoms observed, of apparently confused elephants staggering about before dying, and cyanobacteria explains why the deaths stopped when seasonal drinking holes dried up.

READ | Toxic algae – common in SA dams – caused mass elephant deaths, Botswana says

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