Rescued elephant seal’s successful release operation

Splash! Then one last look back from the big black eyes of the brave young seal before he dived beneath the swell to begin his long swim back home, from the southern coast of Africa, to the sub-Antarctic islands, some 1000 nautical miles away. His human friends on the ship “Golden Karoo”  cheered and waved, as everyone wished the explorer luck on his long journey. But like all great stories, it is best start at the beginning.

The hero in this tale of adventure is a young elephant seal who was named “Dobby”, by his kind and caring human rescuers. But perhaps a better name would have been Columbus or Magellan. It is most likely he was born in the Prince Edward Islands, south of Africa at 46 degrees latitude. For reasons unknown to us he decided to swim North, further than any of his friends or family had ever been, until one day in early 2021, he landed on a beach near the city of Durban, in South Africa. The journey must have been very arduous and full of danger, because when he was discovered by humans, he was very weak and emaciated, with bleeding wounds on his body. Luckily for him the South African Association of Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) was nearby at uShaka Marine World. They took him into their seal rehabilitation centre where he received medical treatment and 15 kg of fish everyday, until 3 months later he was once again fat, healthy and happy.

Now that he was in peak condition again, it was time for him to go home and be back with his own kind, but the question was how? The best and surest way would be to release him in the strong, south flowing, Agulhas current, off the African continental shelf, some 60nm out to sea. However because SAAMBR is a Non-Profit Organization, their budget and resources were limited for such an operation. Through fortuitous connections, they made contact with SMD Telecommunications, the leading marine electronics company in Africa, who then reached out to their good friends at Vineta Ship Management, who along with fleet owners MACS Maritime Carrier Shipping, where more than delighted to help on this worthy enterprise. It was not long before a special place for Dobby and 2 of his care takers was set aside on the MACS ship “Golden Karoo”.  One of SMD’s technicians was also given berth on board the vessel to assist with the operation.

On 31 May 2021, After the Golden Karoo had finished her cargo operations in Durban, Dobby was loaded on board with the utmost care and excitement.  The journey to the drop off place was made as smooth and pleasant as a cruise ship vacation for Dobby and his care givers, thanks to the kind efforts of Captain Szczepaniak and his crew. Then, 5 days later, on 4 June at 06:40, in position 35° 29.17’ S and 023° 34.86’ E, Dobby’s cage was expertly lifted by the provision crane over the transom, and when he was a meter above sea level, the cage doors were opened, and he wasted no time making his jump for freedom. 

The mission was an outstanding success and all who were involved are sure that Dobby is now safely back home, sharing the tale of his wild and crazy adventure with all his Elephant Seal friends. So if one day you find yourself in the sub-Antarctic islands, amongst the mighty elephant seals and one of the 4000kg males with a blue tag on his tail gives you a wave and smile, you can be sure it is Dobby, the greatest explorer of his kind.


Written by Beyers Stern


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