Released seal hauls out on Marion Island after 169 days at sea

Selso has hauled ashore on Marion Island. Photo courtesy of Louw de Vries, a field biologist stationed on Marion Island

Selso the southern elephant seal has arrived safe and sound at Marion Island, 2 200km south of South Africa, after 169 days at sea. He was released off Port Elizabeth after a six-month period of rehabilitation at Durban's uShaka Sea World aquarium.

In June 2013 the young southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) washed up at Southbroom on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal, exhausted and starving. He was taken to the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation centre where the staff named him Selso.

Southern elephant seals usually inhabit the Southern Ocean, where the closest island colony site is Marion Island, so it was unusual for the young seal to strand so far from home on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

When Selso arrived at uShaka Sea World he weighed 73kg, less than half what he should have weighed for his age. He needed to put on 110kg before he would be fit for release by animal rescue staff. 

Feeding him sufficient food to build up his weight took seven months. Prior to leaving the uShaka Sea World rehabilitation centre, Selso was fitted with a satellite tracking tag to record his movements for a year after release.

Tracking Selso's movements via satellite

On 9 January 2014 Selso boarded the MSC Sinfonia cruise ship and was released just before sunset on 11 January 2014, 25 nautical miles due south of Port Elizabeth.   

It took Selso just two days to get his bearings and head in the right direction. His epic journey took him steadily southwards, covering a distance of over 8 000km in less than six months. 

Selso, like all southern elephant seals, is destined to spend his life at sea, except when breeding and moulting. His southward journey included time in areas known to be good feeding grounds. By June he had almost reached the Antarctic ice shelf, but did not remain there long before turning around and heading northwards.

He continued his northward journey, hauling out on Marion Island on 30 June. Thanks to his satellite transmitter, Marion Island research staff were able to locate him among the other seals and assess his health. Selso was found to be in excellent condition and enjoying a well-deserved rest among the boulders.

Once he goes through his first moult, Selso is expected to lose the satellite tag that has enabled the world to track his progress on his homeward journey.

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