Subantarctic fur seal injured by a propeller at Chintsa Bay, East London

A young male vagrant subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) had to be euthanased yesterday morning at Chintsa East after being very badly injured by what looks to be a propeller strike to the right flipper. The seal was reported alive and in reasonable health with no injuries on Saturday at Queensbury Bay. It had probably hauled out to rest at Queensbury Bay before taking to sea later in the day or overnight.

The subantarctic fur seal resting at Queensbury Bay the day before it was injured at Chintsa Bay (east of this location). Photo Supplied.

Yesterday morning at 06h44 Jarryd Kriel (Crawfords Beach Lodge) contacted museum scientist Kevin Cole to report the injured seal which was above the inter-tidal mark on the beach. He also safely secured the animal until the museum arrived. An investigation of the injury revealed a deep wound above the right flipper which had been severely detached from the main body of the animal. There had been quite a lot of blood lost prior to the investigation and the animal was clearly in pain.

Local wildlife vet Dr Roger Davies was called as it was felt the animal may have to be euthanased. Kevin Cole confirmed this with seal expert at Bayworld (PE) Dr Greg Hofmeyr who agreed (and can sanction such an action) that the animal would not survive the injury on its own.

Alex Tweedie (Safari4U Manager) was first to respond to the call to secure the safety of the injured subantarctic fur seal at Chintsa Bay in front of Crawfords Lodge

Subantarctic fur seals are not endemic to the South African coast. They breed on islands thousands of kilometres south of our shores like Tristan da Cunha, Prince Edward, Marion and Crozet islands to name a few. They form large rookeries and males are larger than females. Males are easily identified as adults by a conspicuous tuft of raised hair on the head. They mostly feed on squid and dive to depths of 208 m. They have been recorded to live to 25 years.

Before a final decision was made to euthanase the seal Dr Davies did an examination of the seal under sedation. It was further noted the right flipper had also been fractured. There was no alternative but to save the animal from further suffering and it was professionally put down. The specimen was transported to the museum freezer after a number of samples were taken such as the aqueous humor from the eye, faecal and urine for further analysis.

The lower part of the right flipper had also been cut and the bones in the flipper fractured on this young subantarctic fur seal at Chintsa Bay. Photo: Kevin Cole
Male subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) – note the distinctive tuft of hair on the forehead (only males of the species have this). Photo: Kevin Cole

Alex Tweedie (pictured above), the manager of Safari4u and her volunteers Beckie Goldup, Nesma Yousef and Estefania Caram Puentes are also thanked for being on site to assist with the injured animal.

Dr Roger Davies from Wild Coast Vet (based at Chintsa) examines the injured seal under sedation before a final decision to euthanase was made. Photo: Kevin Cole

The museum has other records of subantarctic fur seals over the years and this is only the second record since 2007 of a male of the species. Siani Tinley of the BCMM Aquarium is also thanked for offering her expertise on the matter and Crawfords Beach Lodge assisted with a quick access to the injured animal and staff to carry the euthanased specimen to the museum vehicle.

Male subantarctic fur seal being prepared at the East London Museum

About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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