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