South Australia Wants to Solve Their Seal Problem with Underwater Bombs

The other options for reducing skyrocketing seal numbers include a cull and just leaving them alone.

by Jessica Alice
Jul 24 2015, 8:03pm

Image via Wikicommons

The long-nosed fur seal population in South Australia's Coorong region has been getting out of hand for a while now. The state population now tops 100,000, and the South Australian government is considering using explosives to scare them away from commercial fishing areas. Unsurprisingly, animal rights groups aren't happy about it.

While they might be adorable as hell, the seals are making life tricky for fishermen by attacking their catches and nets. The seals are also decimating other wildlife including pelicans, swans, and musk ducks— totem animals of the local Ngarrindjeri people.

Calling the seals "rats of the sea," Liberal MP Adrian Pederick originally proposed a culling program. Labor MP and South Australia's Environment Minister Ian Hunter argued against that, saying, "Removing single animals from certain areas simply leaves an opening for others to move in and take advantage of the available food."

So Minister Hunter is looking into alternative solutions, one of which being seal-deterring explosives. Known as seal bombs, they're basically firecrackers designed to explode under water and spook seals away from fishing nets. They can also blow up pumpkins. Experts call these things Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) or "acoustic pingers."

While it's a more humane option than culling, animal rights groups are worried they could kill other nearby species. Phil Cornelius from Animal Liberation South Australia (ALSA) told VICE: "ADDs have been effective in rivers and estuaries, and they're all right, to a degree. But in open water the sound can travel up to 30 kilometers [18.5 miles]—the frequencies can seriously affect creatures like dolphins, porpoises, and sharks, and it can even cause whales to beach due to the sound. It affects their hearing and makes them temporarily or permanently deaf."

There are also questions over their long term effectiveness. The ADDs' manufacturers note if seals adapt to them, they can backfire and act as " dinner bells," alerting seals to areas of fish.

In light of these concerns Minister Pederick has doubled down on the cull idea, saying it's the only solution. He says the seal bombs will be too little too late. "Five years ago I called for an overabundant native species management plan, including sustainable harvest. I'm frustrated at the lack of action."

Minister Hunter remains dismissive of his suggestion, as the seals are a protected species. "In addition," he says, "Culling of long-nosed fur seals could damage the state's reputation as a tourist destination." An argument Minister Pederick rebuts by pointing out, "Millions of people travel to Canada and they club seals," he says. "We cull kangaroos and they're part of our coat of arms."

And what's ALSA's solution? They just want the seals to be left alone, and for the "natural order" to recover all by itself. They're holding a rally on August 1 to oppose the Liberals' proposed cull. Phil concludes, simply, "Cull is just another word for kill, and we'd rather have that not happen."

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