Selso is back again – in PE

After 10 months at sea, Selso the elephant seal has returned to South Africa after an adventurous trip to Antarctica and is currently resting at Bayworld in Port Elizabeth under the watchful eyes of Greg Hofmeyer and the Bayworld team.

Selso the elephant seal at Bayworld

On 15 November 2014 Selso came ashore in the late afternoon in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Selso has begun his annual moult and, as a result, the satellite tracker he was fitted with prior to his release was about to fall off.

Although slightly underweight, Selso appears to be in good health. Scientists from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) have received daily reports tracking his movements and feeding patterns post release and are anxious to reattach the satellite tag once he has completed his moult.

It was for this reason that the decision was taken to bring him into Bayworld on 18 November while the opportunity presented itself. It is estimated that Selso will remain at Bayworld for approximately three weeks while he completes his moult, before once again being taken out off the continental shelf and released. It took no more than two days after being released for Selso to get his bearings and head in the right southerly direction. His epic journey over the 10 months that followed took him steadily southwards to the Antarctic ice shelf then northwards again before hauling out at Cape Recife in the Eastern Cape.

In June 2013, a young southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) washed up at Southbroom, KwaZulu-Natal, exhausted and starving. It was clear that he needed help and was brought to the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation centre and named Selso. Southern elephant seals normally inhabit the Southern Ocean and he was a long way from home.

On arrival at uShaka Marine World, Selso weighed only 73kg and, when he was released seven months later, weighed 180kg. Before being released 25 nautical miles off Port Elizabeth from the MSC Cruise ship, Sinfonia, he was fitted with a satellite tag. Selso reached the Antarctic shelf – 2 700 nautical miles from South Africa – on 9 May 2014, and continued to feed along the shelf for a week.

On 18 May he headed north along the same track he carved going down, stopping to feed along the way. Selso landed on Marion Island on 28 June and only remained on the island for one day. Researchers on the island did, however, manage to photograph him resting amongst the other inhabitants. Since leaving the island, he continued a leisurely northward journey and by the end of July was 122 nautical miles from the Eastern Cape coast.

On 3 August he landed 1.8 nautical miles west of Mazeppa Bay on the Transkei coast and over the next week he came ashore every evening after dark and, by daybreak, had returned to the sea.

Selso continued travelling up and down the coast, feeding off the continental shelf for the next six weeks and came ashore on 19 October in the Tsitsikamma Reserve. He stayed only a day or two.

Selso is only the fifth southern elephant seal known to have come ashore on the South African coastline in the past 20 years. Seals generally haul out onto land before they begin moulting and then re-enter the water after they have completed their moult.

Selso photographed on a beach

Scientists have learned a lot about southern elephant seals from Selso and are going to reattach the refurbished tracker once his moult is complete, probably in the next three to four weeks.

He is going to remain at Bayworld until then, during which he will be offered the same diet as at uShaka Sea World and hopefully will gain some weight.

Scientists will take samples of his fur to establish what he has been feeding on and interesting data will be downloaded from his tracker.

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