Capetonians comparing the recent cold weather to Antarctica might be on to something. On 14 July 2021 an Antarctic leopard seal came ashore at Kommetjie! Leopard seals are native to Antarctica - in fact, they are one of the world's most successful apex predators! Although young leopard seals sometimes range further north, leaving the Antarctic pack ice to the Southern Ocean Islands where there is less competition, it is exceedingly rare for them to come as far north as South Africa - fewer than 20 have ever been spotted in our waters!

Earless and streamlined, leopard seals are "true seals" and adapted for efficiency and long periods of time at sea. Credit: Mel Gouws

Little is known about why these vagrant leopard seals come to South Africa - we don't even know if they are different seals, or if some are return visitors. At the request of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, two of our team members headed to Kommetjie to tag this seal so that it can be easily identified if it is ever sighted again elsewhere in the world.

The team from the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, Two Oceans Aquarium, and NSRI Station 26 assemble to tag the leopard seal. Credit: Amy Glasby

Brett Glasby of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation and Claire Taylor of the Two Oceans Aquarium both regularly work with seals in the V&A Waterfront as part of our ongoing disentanglement efforts, and were up for the task of attaching a tag to this dangerous, but precious, predator.

Brett Glasby and Claire Taylor prepare their tagging equipment. Credit: Amy Glasby

With the assistance of the team from NSRI Station 26 Kommetjie, Brett and Claire were able to safely attach a tag to this beautiful animal!

Credit: Amy Glasby

They weren't alone in welcoming this visitor though. Throughout the day, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA Wildlife Unit visited the seal to assess its health, disinfecting a few old wounds, but otherwise giving the seal a clean bill of health. The team from Shark Spotters was also present to assist in monitoring the seal and keeping the public at bay.

Credit: Amy Glasby

Together with the City of Cape Town, the decision has been made to leave the seal where it is - it is healthy and will decide to move off in its own time. Members of the public should stay away. Leopard seals are large, dangerous predators and are capable of causing major injuries to humans and dogs if disturbed. Let it rest.

Leopard seals aren't the only Antarctic vagrant species that visits South Africa - learn about all the seals we see here.

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