EXPLORER: When Selso the Southern Elephant Seal hauled out on Marion Island, hed clocked an astounding 8 000km in six months. Picture: SA National Antarctic Programme

Cape Town - Move over, Jonno Proudfoot and Thane Williams – you may have completed an astounding world-first 459km open-water swim from Mozambique to Madagascar last year, but Selso’s more recent long-distance swim has rather eclipsed that.

Then again, Selso is a Southern Elephant Seal whose natural home is the vast Southern Ocean, and swimming is his full-time occupation.

And when the elephant seal hauled out on the southern shores of Marion Island at the end of last month, he’d clocked an astounding 8 000km in six months, swimming from just south of Port Elizabeth to virtually the ice shelf of Antarctica and then back to Marion – at 1 920km south-east of Cape Town, the nearest colony of his species.

The seal, then still a pup, was found stranded among the dune plants on Southbroom beach on KwaZulu-Natal’s Hibiscus coast in June last year.

Elephant seals fetch up quite regularly on the Cape coast and less frequently on KZN beaches, often during a moult, but he was in very poor shape, according to Colette Bodenstaff, assistant curator of mammals and birds at Durban’s uShaka Sea World who went to rescue him for possible rehabilitation.

“We estimated him to be a young male less than a year old. He was exhausted, emaciated, had a deep wound under his chin and was riddled with ticks,” she reported on the facility’s website.

He weighed just 73kg, but in two days was eating fish from her hand.

“With his gentle and curious nature and big loving eyes, nobody was immune to this seal’s charms,” she reported.

“We named him Selso – for Southern Elephant Seal Southbroom – but I called him ‘Big Boy’.”


The facility set a 180kg minimum release weight for the young elephant seal, and they also needed him to complete his moult so that a satellite tracking device could be glued with epoxy to his new coat.

Finally, on January 9, he was loaded into a crate aboard the MSC Sinfonia passenger ship and two days later released into the ocean 25 nautical miles (46km) off Port Elizabeth.

By February 14 he had already swum more than 2 000 nautical miles south, and he then “took a turn” down close to the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf before heading north back to Marion Island, where over-wintering research staff reported his presence – in excellent condition – on the south side of the island after 169 days at sea.

Southern elephant seals are the world’s largest seals, and Selco could weigh as much as three or four tons by the time he’s 10 years old and ready to try to collect – and defend – his own harem to breed with. - Cape Argus


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