Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|April 7, 2021|10 Minutes|In Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur

A tackle a day keeps death at bay

It’s a strange way to earn a living. Everyday Naude Dreyer makes a flying tackle on a nimble barking seal into the soft beach sand of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

The stalking starts hundreds of meters away. Sun tanned Naude Dreyer with his hair falling down his back creeps up low on the beach sand inching his way closer. His prey is a 6 month old baby Cape Fur seal.

There are thousands of seals along this beach, but this one is vulnerable and in peril. Stuck deep around the little seal is a deadly necklace of fishing line picked up in the ocean – without help, it faces a slow, agonizing, strangulation.

After what seems like an eternity, Dreyer closes in. About a dozen metres from the little seal Dreyer springs into action. The sprint is on. The imperilled baby seal is as fast as it is elusive. Dreyer times his leap perfectly and rugby tackles the baby seal to the ground.

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With a flash of a blade he cuts the fishing line and puts it away to make sure no other seal falls foul of it.

Dreyer steps back and the seal launches away in a spray of sand. A moment later it turns around with almost a look of shock. You could be forgiven for thinking that the tiny animal realises that its short lived grapple with a large human being has just saved its life.

“When we started there was no manual on how to catch a seal. We pretty much had to wing it. That we didn’t get bitten to pieces is a miracle.”

Tackling a seal is a lot harder than it looks. Along the way there were some epic, almost comic, failures. They tried to use disguises, they hid behind shields, and even some poorly timed drive-by rescue attempts that saw several faces end up in the sand- sans seal.

“We’ve realised the seals are very reliant on smell. One of the biggest factors is the wind direction. They’ve got good ears too, so you have to be careful how much noise you make.”

One thing that has made a massive difference in the chase is using a giant net strong enough to hold a fully grown adult seal. The game changer is a zip that you can open at the end making it easier for saving seals without getting bitten.

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“What works really well is to go in on low light. Whether its early morning and late afternoon, they’ve got sensitive eyes, so if you stay behind the sun or in front of it you can normally get quite close before they know you are there.”

For the Namibian born Dreyer tackling seals and saving their lives is just another day. It all happens a few kilometres from where he lives at Pelican Point, in Walvis Bay – a popular tourist destination and a large fishing industry – 400km West of Windhoek on the coast of Namibia.

Almost every day on this barren beach to the bark of seals and crash of waves you will find Dreyer flying through the air to save seals from the killer rubbish from the ocean.

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It’s not only fishing lines Naude has saved seals from entangling with everything from hard hats, clothes, paint tin rings, gaskets, dog leashes and plastic rings from cooldrinks.

“We normally leave town at around 6:30am to get out there just after sunrise.  We normally return around 10ish or so depending on how we do with the seals,” says Dreyer.

“What I still don’t understand is how someone can see it and not want to do anything.”

Dreyer has a long connection with the seals. He grew up alongside them surfing and kayaking. Later in life, he took tourists to see the seals on 4 x 4 tours and on boat tours.

But when Dreyer started out as a kayaking business running tours to the colony – he couldn’t ignore the entanglements any longer.

“I had just started our kayaking company and we saw a seal dragging a big net in the water behind it. It had a big cut on its neck. I just couldn’t leave it. There was no other option than to catch it and help it. We caught the seal, dragged him on the beach and cut him free. It felt good, we knew we’d saved this animal’s life.”

In 2019 he founded an NGO called the Ocean Conservation Namibia (OCN) with a goal to educate the public and put an end to the entanglement of marine wildlife along the Namibian coast. Money comes in from donors and sponsors right down to YouTube.

One of the ironies of this story is Dreyer never played rugby, but he has earned a name as being one of the toughest tacklers on the beach.

In 2019 and 2020 along he and his colleagues managed to free more than 900 seals.

The busiest time for beach tacklers is from May to November. This is when the seal pups, aged 5 to 7 months old, leave the safety of their mothers to spend more time in the water learning to swim. With this newfound freedom comes the risk of a deadly entanglement.

Not only does Dreyer help to save seals, but his work goes a long way toward raising awareness about people chucking their waste into the sea.

He also gets people watching it on YouTube. Every time he chases down a seal he’s got a GoPro in his mouth.

When we started there was no manual on how to catch a seal. We pretty much had to wing it. That we didnt get bitten to pieces is a miracle.

help to save seals, but his work goes a long way toward raising awareness about people chucking their waste into the sea.

He also gets people watching it on YouTube. Every time he chases down a seal he’s got a GoPro in his mouth.

“One of the strange things we realised was the type of content we needed to produce. At one time we put up some cash to bring in some professional editors and the videos all tanked. Our audience wants that raw GoPro Point of View footage of me breathing down a seal.”

The videos have been so successful their main YouTube account now has half a million followers.

“On a seal saving front we’d like to be able to patrol the whole coastline of Namibia. We’re action based and unfortunately don’t have the time to do the plastic campaigning that some other conservation groups are doing an excellent job of,” says Dreyer.

Tackling the source of the issue is almost as important as tackling the seals to save their lives. Each piece of trash is kept for research in a campaign to bring more accountability to the fishing industry. He hopes to usher in tougher laws.

“Imagine seeing all the boats having their lines weighed every time they go out to sea, and when they come back every kilogram of line that is unaccounted for there is a massive penalty. The impact would be huge and they would be a lot more cautious about what goes overboard.”

A dream that’s emerging one rugby tackle at a time with determination that may seal the deal.

Photo credits: Megan Dreyer