Environment These stranded seals all the way from Antarctica have been rehabilitated and...

These stranded seals all the way from Antarctica have been rehabilitated and released

Image: oceanwide-expeditions.com

Two rare crabeater seals from Antarctica that were stranded at different spots along South Africa’s coastline on the same day have been successfully rehabilitated and released back into the Southern ocean. 

The first crabeater seal, whom rescuers named Sebastian, was found on a beach near Mpekweni, 6,000km from his Antarctica habitat.

Watch Sebastian being captured on the beach here: https://fb.watch/3PflUhr2nq/

A team from East London Museum and Bayworld in Port Elizabeth worked together on the rescue and brought Sebastian to Bayworld to be checked out. 

The other seal, nicknamed Ragnar, washed up at Ramsgate in KwaZulu-Natal and was taken to uShaka Sea World in Durban.  

Crabeater seals have pointier snouts, and are slimmer and paler in colour than seals usually seen in South African waters. And contrary to  their name, they do not eat crabs but Antarctic krill. 

They are found on free-floating pack ice in the Antarctic and are the most abundant seals on the planet. 

Spotting them in South Africa, however, is rare. The warm Indian ocean is not an ideal environment for them and so it was important to rehabilitate and release them as quickly as possible. 

Both young males were healthy and as soon as veterinarians at the two facilities were happy with their condition, work began to plan their release. 

“Sebastian (Bash) the crabeater seal soon grew used to his stay in the rehab facility at Bayworld,” Bayworld said in a post on social media. “And he was a hungry boy, who greedily ate all the fish and squid we fed him. 

“Ragnar (Rags) also charmed the staff at Sea World, eating furiously whatever was offered to him. Since they were in reasonably good condition, their stays in captivity would only be for as long as it would take to organise their releases.”

That day came soon. About three weeks after their capture, on Thursday 18 February, “Rags” was flown to Port Elizabeth by The Bateleurs. 

Based on advice from the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria that this species was very social, it was decided the two seals could be good company for each other. 

They soon settled down together for an afternoon nap, little suspecting what would happen later that evening.

Overseen by four veterinarians – Sea World’s Francois Lampen; Bayworld’s Andrew Mackay; freelance pinniped specialist Liezl Pretorius and SANParks’ Dave Zimmerman – the seals were measured, photographed, X-rayed and fitted with satellite tags. 

Early the next morning they were taken to the Port Elizabeth harbour and welcomed on board the RV Observer. 

Their trip out to sea was supported by the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the South African Observer Network. 

Three hours south of Port Elizabeth, after reaching the Agulhas current, Sebastian and Ragnar were finally released.

“Bash took a look at the sea and, after a moment’s hesitation, was keen to be on his way. After some brief indecision he took the plunge,” Bayworld said.

“He looked at the ocean for what seemed like ages before slowing emerging. After some five minutes of considering his options, he finally plunged into the sea. It was such a pleasure to see how at home he was after his weeks in captivity.” 

The Agulhas current will help the seals in the initial stretch of their journey back to the Antarctic. Their progress in the Southern Ocean will be monitored over the coming months. 

Watch drone footage of the seals’ release here:  https://fb.watch/3Pf65luH8W/