Nothing but the best for Timone the seal

  • August 21, 2014 | Colette Bodenstaff, assistant curator: mammals and birds

After spending two months fattening up at uShaka Sea World, Timone, a juvenile sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis), was declared ready for release on 17 August 2014.

In preparation for release she was fitted with two plastic flipper tags (both numbered 0114) on her front flippers, as well as a satellite tag on her back. The satellite tag is designed to activate once submerged in water, enabling her movements to be monitored post-release.

Timone emerges from her crate to survey the clear, cold Cape waters

Timone arrived on a bitterly cold winter's evening after being found in the Durban harbour mouth. Her condition was poor and her left eye was missing due to an old injury. She was also severely dehydrated and underweight, but despite her condition and size she was pretty feisty and barked at anyone venturing too close. We initially named her Suarez, but soon changed her name to Timone when we saw how gentle and inquisitive she was. 

Although uShaka Sea World had recently released a sub-Antarctic fur seal off Durban, it was decided, due to her size and age, to release Timone in the colder waters off Cape Point. This meant she would need to travel to Cape Town by air, a first for uShaka Sea World.

She left uShaka Sea World on Saturday 16 August, loaded into a transport crate and driven to King Shaka International Airport. Once Timone’s crate was weighed and the necessary paperwork completed, she was loaded onto the plane.

The trip was calm and uneventful and on arrival in Cape Town our relaxed passenger was chauffeured to her overnight stop in Durbanville. Timone ate a few sardines containing final doses of vitamins before settling in for the night.

Timone's chaperone and carer Colette Bodenstaff does some diving in the Cape waters

Early the following morning we departed for Hout Bay harbour, and by sunrise her crate had been loaded onto a rubber duck owned and skippered by Steve Benjamin, who kindly offered to assist in Timone’s release. Lieze Swart from Oceans and Coasts joined us on board. Soon Ian headed out to sea in a south-westerly direction.

Timone’s release spot was off the canyon, 66km off Cape Point where the depth is roughly 500m. This location was chosen as a preferred release site because the ocean current runs south at this point and her natural food would be in abundance. 

We were blessed with perfect sea conditions for the release. The ocean was uncharacteristically calm and we were treated to a feast of marine  life.

We encountered a huge school of common dolphins, followed by a slow-moving Bryde’s whale. Cape fur seals could be seen during the entire boat ride, sleeping singly on the surface or grouped together in rafts, flippers “sailing” in the air. Timone was oblivious to the ocean spectacle we were treated to as she was fast asleep!

After two hours we arrived at the release spot and carefully lifted Timone’s crate onto the pontoon and slowly opened the door. Without any hesitation after seeing the water, Timone dived in with no looking back. In my head I heard the song, So Long & Thanks for all the Fish...

On our way back to Hout Bay we saw a pod of majestic humpback whales. We estimated 11 whales, but couldn’t be sure. We then stopped off at Seal Island slightly north of Hout Bay and I was invited to snorkel with the seals. 

I had only packed my 2mm wetsuit, suitable for warm Indian Ocean waters, but didn’t need to be asked twice. Before I knew it, I was in crystal clear water snorkelling with seals. They were curious and playful. I heard their clicks as they swam by to get a closer look at the strange creature in a blue wetsuit; it was an unforgettable experience.

As we left Seal Island, we came across a small pod of beautiful dusky dolphins. We could not believe our incredibly good fortune and if I hadn’t taken photos, no one would have believed me.

We look forward to regular updates on Timone’s journey. Hopefully she will head “home” to Marion Island or one of the other sub-Antarctic islands. 

Timone is allowing us to understand more about vagrant seals and how we can best help them find their way back home. Thank you to the uShaka Sea World seal and animal health teams for all your effort in rehabilitating Timone.

A huge thank you to Mike Meyer from Oceans and Coasts for his continued passion, guidance and assistance with not only Timone but Gru, Minion and Selso. We value your continued support, without which none of these seals would be satellite-tagged.

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