By: Colette Bodenstaff
World (Kelp) Forests Day – 21 March
International Day of the Seal – 22 March
uShaka Sea World is grateful to have been the recipient of fresh kelp delivered from Cape Town to our door on a fairly regular bases for the past 13 years. This is thanks to the generosity of Kelpak.
The kelp provides our seals with hours of stimulation and helps to promote cognitive and social interaction within the group.
The stalks are mouthed, chewed, tossed around and eaten by the seals while the kelp leaves are only mouthed and tossed around. Although it has not been scientifically proven, it has been hypothesised that the increased chewing motion helps loosen existing plague. More testing on this theory still needs to be done although we have noticed a significant decrease in plague on the seals teeth and gums since we started introducing kelp.
When the kelp arrives at uShaka Sea World it is washed with fresh water and soaked for 15 minutes to ensure that there are no foreign objects or sea life attached to or hidden in the crevices of the kelp. This process is repeated twice. The fresh water rinse helps to kill off any marine bacteria which could be transmitted to our resident seals. Once the kelp has been cleaned and checked it is then given to the seals.
Wild seals eat whole fish whereas seals in human care are offered smaller pieces thereby limiting the amount of chewing they need to do. According to Marine Wildlife Photographer Steve Benjamin who spends much of his time in the ocean “Cape fur seals love playing with kelp. Cape fur seals often chew on the stalks of young kelp and break it into manageable sections to trigger a range of games for themselves and amongst the group. Often, I see similar aged fur seals playing chase after one individual with a stipe. Other times it’s just one individual happily tossing a piece around for itself. The play dynamics underwater are intricate and only the seals seem to know exactly what’s going on.”