Words: Steven J Brown | Photo: Ann Kunz
Selso is a young 22-month old Southern Elephant Seal that underwent rehabilitation at uShaka Sea World in Durban, after being stranded in June of last year on a beach in KwaZulu Natal.
Originally from the sub-Antarctic regions, Selso was underweight and far from home. The young seal should have been triple his weight on admission to uShaka. Led by resident veterinarian Caryl Knox, the uShaka Sea World Veterinary and Animal Care team liaised with veterinarians and scientists both internationally and locally to ensure he received the best possible chance of recovery.
In August of 2013, Mike Meyer from Oceans & Coasts (from the South African Water and Environmental Affairs Ministry), Nico de Bryn (University of Pretoria) and Greg Hofmeyer (from BayWorld, in Port Elizabeth), all of whom have vast experience in marine mammal management and elephant seals, met with the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) CEO, Judy Mann and the uShaka Sea World Veterinary and Animal Care team to discuss the way forward for Selso.
It was then decided Selso’s best option would be to be released once he had reached a weight of 180kg and had completed his annual moult.
Selso recently reached both milestones, tipping the scales at 180kg’s. That’s when uShaka Sea World decided to ask for MSC Cruises’ help releasing him into in his natural environment.
Before his release he was fitted with a satellite tag which will allow scientists from Oceans & Coasts to monitor his whereabouts for up to a year.
Selso was embarked onboard the MSC Sinfonia in Durban on Thursday, 9th January 2014, lifted in a crate on the foredeck and secured under cover. He was released off the coast of Port Elizabeth on Saturday, 11th January at 19h00, 25 nautical miles off the Cape Coast. During the 2-day cruise he was cared for by uShaka Sea World veterinarian Francois Lampen, and principal caregiver Colette Bodenstaff.
According to Colette Bodenstaff, Selso was the ideal patient as he is naturally calm and non-aggressive. During this convalescence at uShaka Sea World he had become desensitised 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 Colette expected him to slow down whilst he was in the crate, he calmly ate his way through 9Kg’s of fish each day. Located next to where he was stationed on the ship was a hose with which he was often hosed down to keep him both cool and clean.
The Assistant Curator of Operations at uShaka, Wayne Sumpton took care of logistics whilst 50/50 camera man Anton Herrington captured the story.
During Selso’s rehabilitation, the SAAMBR team fell in love with him, especially the team who cared for him daily, and had built up a special bond with him. Saying goodbye was an emotional experience for everyone, however, they all knew that he was returning to his natural environment and through the satellite tag, will learn a great deal about his movement patterns in the open ocean. This information will provide the SAAMBR team with valuable information which will enable them to assist future stranded animals, as well as animals in the wild.
When asked why so much care and attention was given to one seal when these seals are not endangered, Judy Mann, CEO of the South African Association for Marine Research (SAAMBR) said, “At SAAMBR we believe that conservation can be achieved in many different ways. We are greatly concerned about ecosystems and species and the bigger picture of conservation as that is what is essential for the survival of our planet and ourselves. Much of our work is focused on this big picture. However, as an organisation that cares for the environment we also care about the welfare of individuals. Although Elephant Seals are not endangered, we had the opportunity to save an individual and, in the process learn more about the species. Knowledge which could contribute towards the conservation of the species in the future. We also had the opportunity to highlight the plight of the Southern Oceans and introduce people to the amazing wildlife found in these places.
Selso has won people’s hearts and hopefully helped to highlight the fact that, no matter where you live we are all connected to the web of life.”
“MSC Cruises is proud in having assisted in Selso’s release,” noted Allan Foggitt, Director of Sales & Marketing MSC Cruises SA. “We were approached and enthusiastically responded to the call for help. It was the right thing to do. We at MSC consider ourselves Guardians of the Seas and treat the oceans of the world with the utmost respect, believing that by acting green and protecting the biodiversity, we can all help keep the waters blue. Oceans and life in the oceans are inextricably connected with humans and Selso’s heart-warming story is just a proof of that”.
Upon Selso’s release his crate was hoisted over the side of the Sinfonia with Wayne Sumpton positioned on the top of the crate and lowered a metre from the water. Wayne lifted the door on the one side of the crate and then moved over to lift the gate on the other side. The moment the second side was opened Selso dived into the water and surfaced briefly before disappearing.