By: Ann Kunz
On 28th January 2021, a sub-adult Crabeater seal (Lobodon carciniphaga) was seen by local residents resting on some rocks on a beach at Ramsgate which is situated on the KZN lower South Coast. Staff from the Lower South Coast SPCA branch were alerted and decided to capture the seal and transport it to uShaka Sea World for observation and possible treatment.
It is only the third recorded sighting of a Crabeater seal on the KZN coastline over the past 40 years. As rare as these sightings in South Africa are, possibly even rarer still is the sighting of two Crabeater seals in South Africa on the same day. Another Crabeater seal sighting was reported in Port Elizabeth on the same day as Ragnar’s arrival. Crabeater seals are true seals who call the coast of Antarctica home.
Upon arrival uShaka Sea World, although resident veterinarian Dr Francois Lampen found him to be in good overall condition, he was understandably stressed. The staff decided to call him Ragnar after the legendary viking Ragnar Lothbrok. He was admitted into one of the rehabilitation holding pools and left to rest and adjust to his new surroundings. As the coast of Antartica is almost totally devoid of human habitation, these seals have not evolved to fear humans – which is not necessarily a good thing.
The uShaka animal care staff, led by Dr Francois Lampen, are investigating the various possibilities which could have caused Ragnar to stray from his natural feeding grounds and end up on the KZN coast. Crabeater seals do not eat crabs. They are specialist feeders feeding on the abundant krill of the Southern Ocean. This presented an initial challenge but he soon started feeding well.
We are in consultation with seal specialist Dr Greg Hofmeyer from BayWorld in Port Elizabeth who has vast experience in marine mammal management for guidance on Ragnar’s care, treatment and reintroduction to the ocean.
“Although Crabeater seals are the most abundant seal species in the world, Ragnar is unique and we will do our best to ensure that he is soon fit and strong enough to make his way back to the Antarctica. He is really easy to work with as unlike most wild animals who are admitted, it appears he has little natural fear of humans,” said Senior Animal Behaviourist, Ursula Macklin.