On Thursday 3 September 2020, reports reached several Cape Town-based animal welfare organisations of an unusual-looking, distressed seal on Clifton 4th Beach. Upon closer inspection, it was identified as a young female Subantarctic fur seal - which would later come to be known as Daisy, because she was found at the beginning of spring.
Daisy was fitted with a numbered tag which would allow anyone observing her in future to easily identify her and make note of her location information for tracking purposes.
Daisy remained at the Aquarium overnight for observation, and on Friday a combined team from DEFF, the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation (which runs a number of animal welfare programmes, including the management of seals and other wildlife within the V&A Waterfront) and Two Oceans Aquarium transported her to Hout Bay. Here, we met with Barry Stringer of Reef Wetsuits (the long-time sponsor of much of the Aquarium's diving equipment) and skipper of the Devocean who offered the use of his boat to take Daisy out a safe distance to be released.
From Hout Bay, we headed out to 27 nautical miles off Cape Point, to an area far out of sight of land and an area known to fishermen for rich stocks of tuna and iconic undersea canyons. It is our hope that these waters will be the perfect place for young Daisy to feed and be able to find her way back to the Southern Ocean islands that are her home.
Before her departure, a whisker was collected from Daisy, which will give DEFF greater insight into her lifestyle before she arrived at Clifton and this information will enable our authorities to have a better, clearer understanding of the lifestyle of Subantarctic seals, and help them to make better-informed conservation decisions.
Swim well, Daisy!
Like our local Cape fur seals, Subantarctics are not true seals. True seals have no external ears, but fur seals like Daisy do. Another key difference is that fur seals are able to "gallop" on land - a useful ability for seals that may encounter land-based predators, like humans, to have.
Subantarctic fur seals are also substantially smaller than our local species, and a female like Daisy may only grow to 50kg. Their small size also means that when they do become stranded, people often confuse them for seal pups. Daisy is about 3 years old, but she is the same size as a Cape fur seal that is less than half her age.
Although they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1700 and 1800s, due to the high value of their pelts, the protection of their colonies has led to an incredible recovery of their population. Excellent conservation laws put in place by the South African, Australian, French and British governments have turned this dire situation around, and Subantarctic fur seals are now no longer regarded as endangered and are in fact a Least Concern species on the IUCN Red List.