Tag­ging an e­lep­hant se­al cal­led So­lo

Knysna-Plett Herald - - Voorblad - Yo­lan­de S­tan­der

The Or­ca Foun­da­ti­on’s F­rik­kie van der Vy­ver tags a mas­si­ve sout­hern e­lep­hant se­al al­ong the Rob­berg pen­in­su­la.

Se­als al­ong the P­let­ten­berg Bay co­ast are being stu­died as part of col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve re­se­arch ef­fort with the Port E­li­za­beth Ba­y­wor­ld mu­seum’s ma­ri­ne mam­mals u­nit.

Last week, the lo­cal ma­ri­ne con­ser­va­ti­on or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on Or­ca Foun­da­ti­on’s se­al bi­o­lo­gist F­rik­kie van der Vy­ver ma­na­ged to tag a mas­si­ve a­dult ma­le sout­hern e­lep­hant se­al al­ong the Rob­berg pen­in­su­la. Dub­bed So­lo, the se­al re­gu­lar­ly vi­sits the Ca­pe fur se­al co­lo­ny in the a­rea.

Being va­grant vi­si­tors to the SA co­as­t­li­ne, on­ly a hand­ful of e­lep­hant se­als co­me as­ho­re al­ong the Gar­den Rou­te co­as­t­li­ne e­very y­e­ar. So­me of the­se se­als are tag­ged by re­se­ar­chers in or­der to stu­dy their mo­vement and o­ri­gin. Ac­cor­ding to the Or­ca te­am, So­lo has been re­gu­lar­ly re­tur­ning to Rob­berg for ma­ny y­e­ars, but very litt­le is kno­wn a­bout w­he­re he g­oes w­hen he is ab­sent for one to two mont­hs at a ti­me.

“But, if he hauls out on sub-An­tarctic Ma­ri­on Is­land, the clo­sest is­land w­he­re e­lep­hant se­als breed and moult, the­re is a good chan­ce that his u­ni­que­ly num­be­red tag will be re­cor­ded by o­ver­win­ter bi­o­lo­gis­ts du­ring their rou­ti­ne round-is­land cen­su­ses,” Van der Vy­ver says.

Van der Vy­ver al­so tag­ged a ju­ve­ni­le Ca­pe fur se­al al­ong the Keur­booms Ri­ver es­tu­a­ry o­ver the past week.

Cap­tu­red and re­le­a­sed…

A con­cer­ned re­si­dent, John Ca­se­well, re­por­ted spot­ting the se­al res­ting on the bank of the es­tu­a­ry.

Af­ter as­ses­sing the si­tu­a­ti­on, Van der Vy­ver con­fir­med the ma­le se­al to be be­t­ween one and two y­e­ars old. He re­por­ted that the se­al i­ni­ti­al­ly ap­pea­red to be in a good con­di­ti­on. The se­al was cap­tu­red and whis­kers and a scat sam­ple we­re col­lected for diet a­na­ly­sis. It was t­hen tag­ged with a u­ni­que­ly num­be­red y­el­low plas­tic flip­per tag and re­le­a­sed back in­to the es­tu­a­ry.

“The se­al was gi­ven the na­me John, af­ter its res­cu­er,” Van der Vy­ver says.

… But found a­gain

The plan was to, as part of col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve re­se­arch with the Port E­li­za­beth Mu­seum Ma­ri­ne Mam­mals u­nit, re­cord John’s fu­tu­re pre­sen­ce and be­ha­vi­our in the es­tu­a­ry, but the se­al’s bo­dy was­hed up ne­ar Le­mon Grass re­stau­rant the next day. “We ha­ve col­lected the car­cass and will do a ne­crop­sy to ho­pe­ful­ly de­ter­mi­ne the cau­se of de­ath,” Van der Vy­ver says. “We sus­pect he was one of a hand­ful of ‘ri­ver spe­ci­a­lis­ts’ which our se­al bi­o­lo­gist has been stu­dying o­ver the past y­e­ar. Ca­pe fur se­als are kno­wn to en­ter ri­ver mout­hs at ti­mes, and a re­cord of pu­blic re­ports show they ha­ve been doing so for ma­ny y­e­ars. It is be­lie­ved that cer­tain in­di­vi­du­als stay for lon­ger pe­ri­ods du­ring which they le­arn to spe­ci­a­li­se in fora­ging on es­tu­a­ri­ne prey spe­cies.”

The pu­blic can help Van der Vy­ver’s re­se­arch by re­por­ting sig­htings of any ri­ver se­als, on 076 661 5741.

P­ho­to: E­ben Lou­rens

P­ho­tos: Sup­p­lied

A Ca­pe fur se­al res­ting on the bank of the Keur­booms Ri­ver es­tu­a­ry was tag­ged re­cent­ly, be­fo­re wa­shing up a day la­ter.

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