Three spearfishermen are fortunate to be alive after a prolonged attack Sunday by a leopard seal in South Africa’s False Bay.
The harrowing ordeal – the seal disarmed the divers and bit them repeatedly – began over a reef more than 400 yards offshore.
According to the National Sea Rescue Institute, two of the men are Jiu Jitsu instructors and one is a Cape Town Municipal Lifeguard. Despite their superb conditioning, they barely prevailed in an exhausting “fight for their lives.”
Jerome Petersen, 50, of Stellenbosch; Joshua Joubert, 40, of Bloubergstrand, and Cameron Vannithing, 24, of Strand, were treated by NSRI and Cape Medical Response personnel after reaching the shore. Their injuries were serious but not life-threatening.
The NSRI, which issued a public safety warning on Tuesday, provided details of the attack in a news release:
“About 400 meters offshore, between Spaniard Rock and Caravan Reef, having reached a reef to begin spearfishing, Jerome dived to the sea bed when he was bitten on the leg by a seal that continued relentlessly biting and bumping the three spearfishermen while they desperately tried to get back to shore.
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“The seal snapped and broke off their flippers, disarmed them of their spearguns and caused serious bites, puncture wounds and soft-tissue injuries, scrapes and bruising.
“They fought for over half-an-hour before finally reaching the shore exhausted and bewildered by what had transpired.
“They attribute their survival to years of experience with the sea and their high fitness levels and state-of-the-art equipment that they had with them,” the NSRI stated. “A 5-millimeter wetsuit arguably saved Jerome from fatal injuries.”
City of Cape Town authorities are monitoring pinniped activity and have warned ocean enthusiasts to be extra cautious.
Leopard seals inhabit Antarctic pack ice but can also be found in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and other Southern Hemisphere locations.
They’re large, powerful pinnipeds that hunt warm-blooded prey, including other seals. Attacks on humans are rare but have occurred.
According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation, at least one human fatality has been attributed to a leopard seal attack.
–Leopard seal image is generic