Selso the seal heads south – part two

After spending three months in recovery at Bayworld Aquarium in Port Elizabeth after once again stranding on a beach, Selso the seal was released on 27 February, 50 nautical miles off the Eastern Cape coastline, from where he will head for Antarctica.

Earlier in the day, blood and DNA samples were taken and his refurbished satellite tag was reattached to his head. As it did previously when Selso was released after a previous stranding and rehabilitation, the tag is expected to transmit daily information detailing his position and feeding pattern over the next 10 months as he heads towards Antarctica.

Selso looks out to sea from his crate before his release off the continental shelf

Selso’s first 11 months at sea post-rehabilitation at Sea World saw him covering a distance of more than 8 000km. He was initially released on 18 January 2014, 45 nautical miles off Port Elizabeth, and travelled southwards at a leisurely pace, reaching the Antarctic shelf four months after first entering the water. 

After spending a week feeding in the rich, yet freezing, Antarctic waters, he turned around and headed straight back towards South Africa, stopping off for two days on Marion Island.

On 15 November 2014 Selso came ashore in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve close to Port Elizabeth’s Bayworld Aquarium. Having begun his annual moult he was a bedraggled, sorry sight lying motionless on the sand in the howling wind. Apart from moulting, he had lost weight and the valuable satellite tag on his head was about to fall off.

How fortuitous it was that the Bayworld scientists were able to retrieve the satellite tag from his head, as it contained invaluable information recorded every four minutes along the seal's incredible journey. Information such as how deep and how long Selso dived, where he spent his time, and the reasons he fished where he did. It even recorded the ocean temperature every four minutes.

Selso's progress since his second release as charted by information from his satellite tracker

uShaka Sea World’s assistant curator, Colette Bodenstaff, was Selso’s principal caregiver when he spent seven months in rehabilitation at uShaka Sea World prior to his initial release, so she flew down to Port Elizabeth to assist Bayworld.

Colette observed Selso’s final weigh-in and blood and DNA samples being taken before he was gently encouraged into the waiting transportation crate. The trip to the harbour was without incident and soon they were on their way out to sea.

After two-and-a-half hours travelling out to sea they finally reached the continental shelf, an ideal release site for southern elephant seals as it features depths of up to 2 000m.

“Unlike the first time we released Selso from an MSC cruise ship and he entered the water head first, this time Selso turned around in his crate and entered the water backwards,” said Colette.

Colette recalled the day 20 months ago when she received a message from a concerned member of the public who saw a “strange-looking” seal lying on a beach in KwaZulu-Natal. 

She immediately went to the seal's rescue and fell hopelessly in love with his huge imploring eyes. "My wish for Selso is that he will enjoy many more adventures at sea and that we will be able to continue to follow his escapades via satellite," said Colette.

Judging by his behaviour, it seems Selso has fallen in love with his carers in South Africa. Time will tell whether he returns to South African shores for a third visit.

Read about Selso's previous adventures below:

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