Selso makes his journey back home with a full tummy and his caretakers’ prayers

2014-01-14 00:00

AFTER gobbling down many a fine meal at the uShaka Marine World while a watchful eye on the scale ensured that his weight kept tipping upwards, Selso the Southern Elephant Seal’s last weigh-in took a load off the shoulders of his caretakers.

So last Thursday, in equally fine style, they hitched him a ride on the MSC Sinfonia as it departed from Durban, and finally released him into the ocean off the coast of Port Elizabeth on Saturday at around 7 pm, 25 nautical miles off the Cape coast.

The 22-month-old seal underwent rehabilitation at uShaka after being stranded in June last year on a beach in KwaZulu-Natal.

Originally from the sub-Antarctic regions, Selso was underweight and far from home.

Led by resident veterinarian Caryl Knox, the uShaka veterinary and animal care team liaised with veterinarians and scientists both internationally and locally to ensure he received the best possible chance of recovery. To do this, they had to make sure he reached an ideal weight of 180 kg.

In August last year, Mike Meyer from Oceans and Coasts (SA Water and Environmental Affairs), Nico de Bryn (University of Pretoria) and Greg Hofmeyer (from Bayworld, in Port Eliza­beth), met with the SA Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) CEO, Judy Mann and the uShaka veterinary and animal care team to discuss the best way forward for Selso.

It was then decided Selso’s best option would be to be released once he had reached a weight of 180 kg and had completed his annual moult.

Selso recently reached both milestones, tipping the scales at 180 kg. That’s when uShaka decided to ask for MSC Cruises’ help releasing him into in his natural environment.

Hence, last week Selso was lifted in a crate on the foredeck and secured under cover.

During the two-day cruise he was cared for by uShaka Marine World veterinarian Francois Lampen, and principal caregiver Colette Bodenstaff.

According to Bodenstaff, Selso “was the ideal patient as he is naturally calm and non-aggressive”.

Before his release he was fitted with a satellite tag that will allow scientists from Oceans & Coasts to monitor his whereabouts for up to a year.

During this convalescence at uShaka Marine World he had become de-sensitised to mechanical sounds and humans and spent the last month becoming accustomed to the transportation crate. At no stage did he show signs of stress but was very curious when he saw the sea for the first time.

He always had a ferocious appetite and although Bodenstaff expected him to slow down whilst he was in the crate, he calmly ate his way through nine kilograms of fish each day. Located next to where he was caged on the ship, was a hose with which he was hosed down to keep him both cool and clean.

“Although Elephant Seals are not endangered, we had the opportunity to save an individual and, in the process learn more about the species,” Mann said.

Spokesperson for MSC Cruises SA, Allan Foggitt, said helping Selso was the right thing to do. “We consider ourselves guardians of the seas and treat the oceans of the world with the utmost respect,” he said.

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