The Namibian (Windhoek)

24 November 2008

Namibia: Seal Mauls Surfers at Cape Cross

TWO surfers narrowly escaped death on Saturday when they were attacked by an adult female seal at Cape Cross.

Chris Nel and Neels Engelbrecht went to Cape Cross, about 130 km north of Swakopmund, to surf.

The area is considered to be one of the best surf spots in Namibia for the more experienced surfer.

They were about 600 metres offshore when Nel heard Engelbrecht scream and saw that a seal had grabbed him by the head.

"I quickly swam towards him and saw the seal attacking him continuously, jabbing forward with its head, jaws snapping at his face and body.

I was just praying to God, begging Him to spare Neels's life," Nel told The Namibian from his hospital bed in Swakopmund.

According to Engelbrecht, he had hardly time to breathe: the seal just kept on attacking, ripping part of his ear off, biting him on the head, arms and legs.

"I just shouted to Chris that I couldn't go on.

I was tired and in pain, and the seal would not stop.

I thought this was the end of my life," he said.

Nel tried to force the animal away by hitting it with the tip of his surfboard in its face, but it would not budge.

"It eventually just looked me straight in the eye and came for me; leaving Neels alone," said Nel, who was also bitten on his head, back and arms.

The two surfers struggled to make their way back to shore because of the relentless attack.

The seal fought them all the way onto the beach, they said.

They struggled to their car, parked about a kilometre inland, and sped to Swakopmund, with Nel driving with only one hand.

Between the two of them, they received more than a hundred stitches in the casualty ward.

Their wetsuits had to be cut from their bodies.

Rabies injections were also needed, but there was no vaccine to be found in Swakopmund.

Only four ampoules were available in Windhoek, and Nel's brother-in-law drove from Windhoek to meet Engelbrecht's father, who drove from Swakopmund, in Karibib to deliver the vaccine.

More vaccine was ordered from Johannesburg yesterday.

Both men have more than 25 years' surfing experience, and have surfed among seals before.

According to them, seals are generally friendly creatures, and would not harm people.

"Our coast is full of them.

You can't help being among them when you surf.

This was just one murderous seal out of the lot," said Engelbrecht.

"Never have we heard or read about a seal attack on surfers.

Sharks, yes, but never seals."

Ironically, last week, an international surfing magazine recommended Namibia as one of the best surfing spots in the world.

"The holidays are coming up and a lot of surfers will join us.

We just want to warn them of this area, and recommend that they be careful when surfing there," said Engelbrecht.

Coastal conservationist and veteran surfer Rod Braby told The Namibian that he has done an Internet search and, as far as he could establish, no other seal attack on a surfer has ever been reported in the world.

He said the local surfing community would go Cape Cross shortly and search for the seal.

Local doctors are also astounded, saying they've never heard of such a sustained and ferocious seal attack.

The seal-culling season at Cape Cross ended on November 15, and speculation is that the seal was disturbed by the wholesale slaughter there.

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