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Dobby's Journey

On Friday morning (12th February 2021) we awoke to messages informing us of a beached elephant seal on Garvies beach which is on the Bluff, Durban.  Our first thoughts were bewilderment at the arrival of yet another arctic seal visitor so close to Ragnar’s arrival. 

Then to more practical thoughts of how to relocate a 130-kilogram seal from Gavies beach to uShaka Sea World.  Members of the Metro Search & Rescue, SAPS Search and Rescue NSRI and Ethekwini lifeguards once again came to the rescue and transported the seal to uShaka Sea World.

His arrival caused quite a dilemma as all the available rehabilitation pools were already occupied and we were uncertain whether he would be able to peacefully share Ragnar’s enclosure.  He was visually examined in his transport crate and then left to rest and recover from his ordeal whilst the seal and animal health teams set about researching artic seal behaviour. It was clearly evident that he had sustained an injury to lower jaw which we hoped was merely a superficial laceration. 

When he looked at the team with his big dark pleading eyes, it seemed appropriate to call him Dobby after the house elf in Harry Potter.

Over the weekend once we learned from seal expert, Greg Hoymeyer that it would be in order to place the two Antarctic seals together, we introduced Dobby to Ragnar.  It was Ragnar who seemed genuinely pleased at the arrival of a companion.  Dobby merely rested on the side of the pool, opened and closed his big eyes and seemed oblivious to Ragnars numerous snuggling attempts. 

They were later seen swimming in the pool together and we knew all would be ok.

Dobby will have to remain in our care until he has completed his moult (which can last up to four weeks) Elephant seals don’t usually feed or swim whilst they are moulting and spend the month lying around on the islands sleeping.  Dobby spends his days doing just that, sleeping.

Being true seals both Dobby and Ragnar have signature big dark eyes and snotty noses. 

17 March 2021

A month has passed since we posted the story on Dobby the elephant seal who was found on Garvies beach which is situated on the Bluff, Durban  A lot has happened during this time and Dobby is a changed seal.

He spent the first week in rehab lying with his back turned away from us trying to be an innocuous as was possible.  Although it is normal for stranded seals to take a while to adjust to their new surroundings, Dobby took longer than most seals.    It was not until after Ragnar left that he slowly started to take an interest in his surroundings, the lure of the pool and the smell of food.

However, once he did there was no turning back.  Staff arriving at work in the carpark are greeted by Dobby’s bellows for their attention. His demanding bellows can be heard 100 meters from the rehabilitation facility and no-one can concentrate until his demands have been met.  His is quite a character and has gained 11.4Kgs over the past three weeks. He enjoys a variety of fish which is offered to him three times a day.  He is a fast learner and although we remain out of sight when feeding him in the pool he has made the association of food with humans.  We are having to go back to the drawing board to work on our feeding tactic.

The wound on his chin has healed well and although he is making good progress towards attaining his release goal weight, he will need to remain in rehab until he has completed his moult.  We estimate that this process will take another couple of months.

He spends his day chilling at the pool, charming the staff and curiously investigating life as it unfolds around him.  We trust that he will continue to thrive in our care and look forward to the day that he is given his release papers.

30 March 2021

Not much has happened in these past two weeks except that Dobby has continued to eat and eat and eat.

He is now eating 8Kgs of fish a day and is quite the opposite of a fussy eater. He swims around the pool with great speed swallowing all the food offered to him as fast as he can and then within minutes, is looking around to see if there is any more on offer.

He is loud, powerful and confident yet at the same time soft, curious and endearing.

Although he is steadily gaining weight it will take a fair while until he has gained sufficient weight for release. Until then, we are grateful for the opportunity to care for such an unusual and rare visitor to our coast.

 

20 April 2021

Dobby still spends his days chilling around the pool, diving and greeting the staff as they walk past his enclosure. The big change is in his weight gain.

He is now eating 15 kilograms of fish a day which is divided between three feeds. He has a healthy appetite and rather than chewing his food he sucks it up like a vacuum cleaner. His least favourite food is squid and cuttlefish and his favourite food is everything else he is offered.

When he arrived he weighed just under 71kg and now weighs 110kg, which is a massive 40kg weight gain. He still has 50 kilograms to go before he reaches his goal weight.

If all goes well and he continues to gain weight at the current rate, he could be ready for release in less than two months.

 

11 May 2021

Good news – Dobby has reached his goal weight.

When we last reported on Dobby’s progress he weighed 110 kg and needed to put on a further 50 kg in order to reach his goal weight.

Thankfully, he still has a ferocious appetite and consumes every morsel of fish and squid offered to him, then looks around with his huge pleading eyes for more. He is now at his ideal release weight and we need to concentrate on maintaining his weight at between 160 – 165 kg to ensure that he has the best possible chance of making it back home.

We are collaborating with our partners both local and international regarding his release.

Until then, he will probably continue to laze around the pool loudly greeting staff as they arrive for work and then curiously watching their every move as they go about their duties.

 

1 June 2021

Dobby has left uShaka Sea World and is heading home.
 
Yesterday evening Dobby boarded a cargo ship heading for Cape Town and sailed out of Durban Harbour as the sun set. His time in rehabilitation was over and we believe he is now fully capable of making the 4000 kilometre journey home.
He will be lowered from the ship into the ocean on the continental shelf sometime tomorrow.
Before being enticed into the transport crate with fish (remember he was permanently hungry) he had been flipper tagged and undergone his mandatory pre-release health checks.
The animal health team, supported by the animal care staff, put Dobby under anaesthetic before performing ultrasounds, X-rays and taking both skin and blood samples for analysis. Other than his skin condition, which is a common ailment in elephant seals, he was found to be in perfect health. We are certain that in time his skin condition will improve, and he will complete his moult.
Seal Behaviourists Bilal Limbada and Melissa Verschoor are accompanying Dobby on the vessel to ensure that his ship release goes smoothly.
“I am feeling both sad and incredibly happy at the same time”, said Lead Behaviourist Hayley Tennent”. It has been a privilege and an absolute pleasure caring for Dobby who burrowed deeper and deeper into lives and souls over the past few months. We will miss him and at the same time we are all so happy for him. He has done well and we are comforted knowing that he will soon be back in the ocean heading homewards” said Hayley.
We will hopefully receive information on his ship release tomorrow which we will share on our social media platforms. Until then – we are holding thumbs that all goes well.

8 June 2021

After 3 days at sea Dobby was successfully released into the Agulhas current at around 9am on Friday 4th June.  His transport crate was lowered down the stern of the M/V Golden Karoo vessel.

Once it reached the surface of the ocean, the gate was lifted and Dobby wasted no time in diving into the ocean  He reappeared a few seconds later about 100 meters from the ship and then headed off at great speed.

Whilst onboard the vessel Dobby received VIP treatment after winning the hearts of the entire crew who made sure that he was safe and secure throughout the journey.

We trust that Dobby will make his way home over the next few weeks.  If we are very fortunate, one of the marine scientists working on one of the southern islands will be able to identify him by the number on his flipper tag.

We are most grateful to MACS Maritime Carrier Shipping (Pty) Ltd and the crew from the M/V Golden Karoo for their sponsorship and unwavering support in the final chapter of Dobby’s rehabilitation programme.  

We wish Dobby well and hope he enjoys many more years hunting and exploring the southern oceans.

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