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When a 76kg elephant seal was discovered on Garvies Beach in Durban, bystanders realised he may be in trouble.

A collaborative effort by Station 5 (Durban), uShaka Marine World and Durban Metro Police ensured he was brought to safety quickly.It can be tricky to know if beached seals need assistance, as they may simply be resting in the sun after a long swim.

However, ‘Dobby’, as he was later named by staff at uShaka Marine World had a deep gash on his chin and a scraggly appearance due to moulting.The 76kg elephant seal had washed up on Garvies Beach, Durban, and on Friday morning, 12 February, NSRI Durban crew were asked to assist Durban Metro Police Search and Rescue, who had received the original request from uShaka Marine World and Wild Trust.

"Due to Covid-19 restrictions, uShaka Marine World was short-staffed, and needed assistance moving their mobile cage,” says Station 5 crew member Lorenzo Taverna.

"The seal had already been secured to a Stokes basket when we arrived. I understand that at one point he became agitated and tried to escape towards the sea, and had to be restrained. We managed to move him to a secure vehicle using a spider harness, and from there he was taken to uShaka Marine World with a police escort so we could move through the heavy traffic, as we didn’t want to cause the animal unnecessary distress.”

A joint effort

The rescue operation was overseen by uShaka Marine World veterinarian Dr Francois Lampen, who lives nearby on The Bluff and made the decision to remove the animal to uShaka Marine World for care, rehabilitation, and to safeguard the animal’s wellbeing. Even if a beached seal may only be resting, they are vulnerable doing so on public beaches. Well-meaning passers-by may try to intervene, putting both themselves and the animal at risk.“

"There are only three times a human may interact with a wild animal, in accordance with legislation such as the Marine Living Resources Act,” says Dean Nieuwoudt, Operational Commander of Durban Metro Police Station Search and Rescue. “When the animal is injured or in distress, when the animal poses a threat to humans, or when other humans pose a threat to the animal. In any other circumstances, a distance of 100m must be maintained.”

Happily, Dobby is expected to make a full recovery.“ Apart from a deep gash on his chin and the fact that he was a little underweight, Dobby is in good condition,” says animal behaviourist Ana-Alicia Eyre, who has been caring for him at uShaka Marine World. “He has his own private pool and resting area, and we will care for him until he has finished moulting.”

Moulting – an important process

Elephant seals moult once a year, shedding their outer layer of skin and hair. During this time, the seals like to stay as dry and warm as possible, as cold water constricts the blood vessels which makes the moulting process take longer. It can take up to a month, during which time the seal will beach and also eat less. It’s important that they have somewhere safe to rest while the process takes place.

“Moulting is a big deal for seals, so we’ll keep him safe here, where he can rest, fatten him up, and then release him,” explains Ana-Alecia.Why “Dobby”? “We have a good sense of humour here at uShaka,” says Ana-Alecia. “We named him Dobby because he would watch people coming and going with these big brown eyes… He reminded us of the Harry Potter character of the same name, who also has enormous brown eyes.”

For more information on what to do if you discover a stranded marine animal, please read our Marine Week storyFor more articles on animal rescues

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