Rescued seals begin swim home

SAD EYES: Bear the seal gets ready to say goodbye to his rescuers
SAD EYES: Bear the seal gets ready to say
goodbye to his rescuers

Bayworld, Durban marine centre say goodbye to special guests

It was a bittersweet day for Bayworld and Durban’s uShaka Marine World as they released two seals into the ocean just outside Algoa Bay yesterday after months of rehabilitation.

The day was also historic as Bear – an adult male Antarctic fur seal that was released – is said to be the first of his kind to be found on South Africa’s shores, about 6 000km from his usual habitat.

uShaka mammal and bird behaviourist Hayley Tennant said there was no clear explanation for Bear’s presence so far from home.

“We received a call in June that a seal had washed up at Port Edward,” Tennant said.

“When we found him, he was quite lethargic and thin. It was only once we brought him to uShaka that we realised exactly what we had found.”

Antarctic fur seals grow to about 200kg and only occur in colder waters around the southernmost land masses in the world.

When Bear was found, he weighed only 70kg.

“One theory for his presence revolves around climate change and the migration of fish he would normally feed on,” Tennant said.

“He could have followed his food and gone way off course, eventually washing up in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Due to uShaka’s longstanding relationship with Bayworld, Bear was brought in a van to Port Elizabeth on Tuesday. It then took half a dozen people to load his specially designed crate onto a boat at the Port Elizabeth Deep Sea Angling Club.

He was taken about 65km south and released into a strong current that could speed up his journey home.

Alongside Bear, the Bayworld team released Clarence, a young male sub-Antarctic fur seal that washed up at Cape Receife in September.

While sub-Antarctic fur seals normally occur southeast of South Africa, in the region of Marion Island, they are not uncommon around local shores, and also grow to about 200kg.

On his release Clarence was well under that weight, indicating he was still young.

Bayworld marine mammals and seabirds specialist Cherie Lawrence said that, when found, Clarence had cuts on his neck and face, possibly caused by being washed against rocks.

“He was also very thin and a little dehydrated.

“We had a lot of fun working with Clarence, and releasing animals back into the ocean is always a little bittersweet for us.

“We become attached to them, but we know our end goal is their safe return to the wild,” Lawrence said.

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