The Two Oceans Aquarium’s curatorial and technical teams are often called out to help stuck or injured marine animals in and around the V&A Waterfront. We have a history of releasing ocean sunfish from the surrounding dry docks, and we also regularly work with the harbour’s Cape fur seals. Specifically, we assist in freeing them of painful plastic loops, fishing lines, nets and other debris that have wrapped around their necks and bodies and that are causing deep, painful wounds and often life-threatening injuries.
On 23 November 2015 we ended up doing both jobs: capturing and removing a Cape fur seal stuck in the Robinson dry dock next door, then painstakingly removing gill nets from its mouth and torso before releasing it back into the water.
Working with wild animals is harder than it looks. Seals are extremely strong and do panic when approached by humans, so our six-person-strong seal team had to strategise carefully before going in with the specially designed seal net, poles and a broom.
Assistant Curator Claire Taylor and Assistant Technical Manager Vincent Calder were leading the team of technical and curatorial staff, which included Tersia Greenstone, Andre Nieuwoudt, Pierre de Villiers and Deen Hill.
The seal, which had tucked itself into a hard-to-access corner of the dry dock, had also been ensnared in gill nets. This was going to be more than a relatively simple “catch and release” job as was first expected!
The team would have to coax out the seal without hurting it or themselves, then gently get it to water and release it after removing as yet undetermined quantities of net.
The seal gave the team a run for its money – back and forth through the shallow water and across slippery surfaces – but patience prevailed and the seal was finally caught.
Then it was up and out of the dry dock, to the nearest jetty, where the seal could be disentangled and released.
Remains of a gill net had ensnared the seal’s mouth and were wrapped around its jaw and inside its mouth. It took practiced attention to detail and gentle care to safely remove this painful netting.
The seal’s torso was also wrapped in gill net.
After a final check and the all clear from our resident vet, Dr Georgina Cole, the seal was carried down to the jetty and there it was gently released. The seal was free and could join its friends for a lazy roll through the water.