Antarctic fur seal released into Agulhas current

Arcto, the first Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) ever to have been recorded on South African shores, was released 25 nautical miles off Port Elizabeth into the fast-flowing Agulhas current towards the end of November 2016.

Arcto is prepared for release 25 nautical miles off Port Elizabeth (Image: uShaka Sea World)

It is anticipated that the satellite tag attached to the seal will transmit valuable information regarding his movements and behaviour pattern as he makes the 2 000-km journey home. Southern Ocean seals like Arcto are able to travel in the current at a rate of approximately 200km per day.

Arcto was found on a beach at Port Edward on the lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal on 14 June 2016. He spent six months in rehabilitation under the care of uShaka Sea World mammal and animal health teams, during which time he gained 43kg in weight.

Although the seal was extremely thin and lethargic on arrival there were no visual signs of injury. It was believed that he had probably found himself in the wrong current far from his natural feeding ground and had slowly become weaker until he finally stranded due to exhaustion. 

As Antarctic fur seals typically feed on krill, squid and fish, he was fed a diet of pilchards, hake and cuttlefish, but pilchards were his favourite.

A last tasty pilchard from animal behaviourist Hayley Tennent before he is released into the Agulhas current (Image: uShaka Sea World)

As this was the first time that an Antarctic fur seal had been treated in human care in South Africa, uShaka Sea World staff took the opportunity to learn as much as they possibly could while he was in their care. His weight gain, growth, length and behaviour were recorded. 

Before he was released off Port Elizabeth Arcto was fitted with a satellite tag by Mike Meyer from the Department of Environmental Affairs, Greg Hofmeyer from Bayworld and Dr Francois Lampen from uShaka Sea World.

The successful rehabilitation and release of this special seal was due to a collaborative effort between uShaka Sea World, Bayworld and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Arcto heads out to sea in his special crate (Image: uShaka Sea World)

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