Valentine's Day preparations sealed with a kiss

  • February 07, 2013 | Jonathan Ellerbeck (Animal Behaviourist)

Jonathan Ellerbeck and Ursula Macklin prepare the seals for the photo shoot

This morning our public relations department asked us to participate in uShaka’s Valentine's Day celebration preparations. The request – a photo of two seals sharing a romantic dinner.

Jabulani and Illanga immediately came to mind as they had recently paired up in the seal exhibit. Unfortunately for Illanga, Jabulani found a few other females in the colony just as appealing, so perhaps some Valentine's magic was just what Illanga needed.

Both seals appear in the daily pantomimes and are familiar with the signal for a kiss. The Valentine props were set, table laid and the photographer ready in position by the time my colleague Ursula Macklin and I brought the two seals onto the stage.

Not accustomed to the fancy tableware, Illanga looked at me for reassurance and after a few gentle words of encouragement, she approached the table.

He: "But I looooove you." She: "Now you're making me feel all shy"

Jabulani did not seem to notice anything different as he placed his flippers firmly on the table and waited for his next cue.

With the photographer happy, Ursula and I simultaneously gave the signal for a kiss and took a step out of shot. The seals held the kiss, the photographer got her shot and I rewarded Illanga with her favourite fish from the SASSI green list: pilchards.

We then went through a few more behaviours with the two seals to ensure that they enjoyed the session, and as expected, the camera kept on clicking as they posed with each other again and again.

After the photographer left, Illanga made the most of Jabulani’s undivided attention and carried on flirting with him, both in and out of the water, for the rest of the morning.

Finally! Sealed with a kiss ... Illanga and Jabulani take their cue

Cape fur seals, also known as South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)  mate from November to February each year, which coincides with the time they moult their top layer of fur. During the mating season seals spend little time feeding as their energy is focused elsewhere.

Visitors to uShaka often witness seals’ mating behaviour, as mating calls are exceedingly loud and fighting off challenging males is anything but a dainty affair.

Click this link to see all the pictures of the Valentine's Day shoot.

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