The Skeleton Coast of Namibia has no skeletons and not really any shipwrecks any more but you can imagine the despair of any mariner washed up on this moistureless shore. After the South Atlantic Ocean there is a mini mountain range of grey sand and then the glaring white gravel plains of the Namib Desert.
I took the salt road past the mines to Cape Cross, where back in the 15th century Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao erected a monument at one of the farthest reaches of his 1,400km voyage. There is a replica of his original pillar at Cape Cross.
The main attraction at Cape Cross is to see one of the largest Cape Fur Seal colonies in the world. If you’ve seen seals in the wild before you’ll know the first thing to hit you is the smell, followed shortly by the noise.
The Cape Cross Seal Colony is a seething mass of thousands of yelping, moaning, barking, fighting seals. In November it was the middle of the birthing season and distressingly there were many dead pups scattered about. Pups flopped about looking for their mothers.
Apparently only 30 per cent of pups survive to adulthood and the noise, the blood, the pain and death gave picture of complete chaos. But after about 10 minutes of horrified observation I began to feel involved.
A pup had just been born and the mother was ejecting the placenta. She barked constantly at her new pup, and it gave a mewling reply. A harem gathered around a bull seal, rubbing their heads against his side.
The sea was thick with swimming, surfing, black and shiny seals. On the beach ‘kindergarten’ groups of pups are surrounded by adults, while mothers are off at sea hunting to replenish their milk supplies.
It was a scene full of the cycle of life. All I could think was “David Attenborough eat your heart out”. My clothes would stink of seal for hours afterwards.
Controversially, Namibia conducts the second largest seal cull in the world, claiming the seals consume too much of the country’s valuable fishing resource.
Animal protection societies refute this. Culling does take place here at Cape Cross, despite it being a reserve. They close everything off during the cull and won’t let journalists in to observe. Activists are calling for a boycott of Namibian tourism and products.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you ever had a wildlife travel experience you found confronting, like mine at the Cape Cross Seal Colony in Namibia?
Read about a less olfactory and traumatic experience visiting the Australian Sea Lion colony at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island.