Video footage has captured the incredibly rare and harrowing scene of a seal attacking a disorientated whale that had swum into Hout Bay Harbour in the Western Cape of South Africa. The video tragically ends with the dolphin-sized Dwarf Sperm Whale bravely releasing ink to shake off the seal… but ultimately being driven up onto a breakwater in a shower of blood, as locals and tourists looked on helplessly.
The powerful Cape Fur Seal launched itself at the Dwarf Sperm Whale after becoming aware of the whale’s distress. The whale had got itself lost in shallow windows where its direction-finding sonar was no longer working as it needs deep water to function.
The 7-foot long whale can be seen in the video swimming at full speed into a rocky breakwater in Hout Bay harbour, with the slightly smaller seal hanging by its teeth onto its tail fins.
Dwarf Sperm Whale releases huge cloud of ink
Although the whale is bleeding from head injuries, the huge cloud of reddy brown liquid is in fact ink and not blood.
The Dwarf Sperm Whale releases a huge cloud, like an octopus, as a defence mechanism to confuse predators – like Orca’s and Great White Sharks – when they attack it, usually giving it time to then escape.
This tragic whale – which was suffering deep distress from being disorientated in the shallow water and was badly injured – tried to beach itself several times.
The Cape Fur Seal – which is one of many in the harbour – either thought the whale was an easy meal or that the whale was a threat to it or its cubs.
Eye Witness thought it was a shark
Eye-witness Susan du Plessis, 37, who was on holiday and saw the incident said: “I thought at first: ‘Oh My God it is a shark’ and I thought it was trying to get up at a seal pup.
“People were saying that the seal that was chasing it and biting it and ripping at the back of it was protecting its pup; and it looked like lots of blood was everywhere in the water.
“There was a large crowd watching as the seal kept on chasing and chasing, then finally gave up; but I was later told it was a small type of whale and it beached itself on the rocks.
“The authorities turned up and a message went out that there was nothing that could be done, and a request not to take any more video as they had to shoot it to put it out of its misery.
“It was an extremely sad situation but the whale clearly had reached the end and although nobody wished it met its end like this, it was sadly the kindest thing to do for it,” she said.
WATCH VIDEO Cape Fur Seal Attacks Dwarf Sperm Whale in Hout Bay Harbour, Cape Town, South Africa
This is nature, but please don’t watch if you are sensitive. It is upsetting.
Update May 2021: Sorry, this video has been removed from YouTube.
City of Cape Town – The whale had to be euthanised
The manager of the City of Cape Town Coastal Management team Gregg Oelofse said: “These are deep water animals that need deep water for their sonar systems to work.
“When they get into shallow water they become distressed and disorientated if they are in depths of less than 20 metres, and this is what happened when it got into the harbour.
“It was best described to me like a human being in the pitch black being in a cricket ground and all the floodlights get turned on and off alternatively and you panic and run in all directions.
“The dwarf sperm whale was similarly distressed and panicked and had become highly stressed, and with the seal chasing it swam up onto the rocks and had beached and hurt itself.
“The whale released ink which is a defence mechanism but the seal would quickly have realised that it was not a target, and left it alone but the whale beached itself on rocks.
“There was nothing that could be done and the whale was euthanised in accordance with the marine mammal protocol by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“It is always tragic when that has to be done but there was no hope in this case,” he said.
SPCA had to do “the right thing” for the injured whale
The SPCA’s Belinda Abrahams said: “Our hearts sunk when we arrived because this Dwarf Sperm Whale was extensively injured and weak and no doubt suffering immensely.
“According to research these whales often beach themselves when they are too sick or injured to swim and the currents carry them ashore to die a slow agonizing death.
“We knew that returning this whale to the ocean would not be successful and would only add to the stress, pain and exhaustion that this animal was already experiencing.
“We had no choice but to do the right thing for the injured whale and the only way to end this whale’s suffering was humane euthanasia which was a very difficult decision,” she said.
More About Dwarf Sperm Whales
Dwarf Sperm Whales are rarely seen at sea and dive to depths of several thousand feet. The adults average 2,7 metres in length and 250kg in weight. They eat fish, octopus, squid and crustaceans.
It is not known how many of the slow-moving whales exist as they are usually only found when washed up on shore, and their greatest predator is the Orca and Great White Shark.
To escape predators they release a reddy/brown ink cloud from their anus that can spread to 100 square metres. The ink blinds the eyes of their attackers and affects their sense of smell.
The Cape Fur Seal grow to a similar size to the Dwarf Pygmy Whales and share the same diet. They too fear the same predators with Killer Whales and Great Whites seeking them out.
The body of the Dwarf Sperm Whale, the smallest whale species in the world, was taken away to a marine laboratory for research purposes.
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Great excitement in Cape Town as rare Dwarf Sperm Whale spotted at V&A Waterfront harbour, November 2016