Ruff the beloved East London Aquarium seal is back in the pool she shares with other seals after she was spotted 2km up the Kwelera River yesterday.
“She came when we called her name,” said delighted BCM chief of marine services, Siani Tinley, who together with aquarium superintendent Steven Rheeder took her back to the only home she has known since she was rescued from the beach as a stranded pup.
The 17-year-old seal was washed out of her pool at the East London Aquarium during massive wave surges that hit the coast three weeks ago, and aquarium staff were concerned she would fare badly in the wild after being hand-reared and fed twice a day.
But then Tinley received the call that would see Ruff coming home.
At 6am yesterday Clippety Clop private reserve resident Chris Felton was enjoying his morning coffee when he spotted “a larger swell than normal” on the Kwelera River.
“I went to have a look and saw a seal. I read the Daily Dispatch every day so had followed the story about Ruff. She started hunting for prawns in the mud on the other side of the river.”
When Felton called the aquarium he was asked to send a photograph of the seal to help with identification. Tinley also asked him to feed her from a blue bowl because seals are fed from a blue cooler box at the aquarium.
“I brought out some sardines in a blue Tupperware and when she saw it she swam over and ate them. I saw that she was very tame and very hungry.”
When Tinley and Rheeder arrived at the river bank, they called out “Ruff!” and a video taken by Felton shows the seal scuttle from the slipway and onto the grass to where Rheeder stood offering a fish, which she gulped down.
“She followed us to the vehicle and we used a canvas net to get her in because it was a bit too high for her to climb in. She is a good weight so she must have found food,” said Tinley.
When the Daily Dispatch visited the aquarium yesterday, Ruff appeared lethargic but was swimming with her sleek pool mates. Tinley said she would be assessed by a vet and monitored.
She said although she would have liked to leave Ruff in the wild, the seal was vulnerable to humans with ill intent.
“There is also boating on the river and motor props could have injured her, while fishing hooks and bait in plastic bags could also have hurt Ruff.
“The other growing concern is that the muti trade is now focusing on marine species and we have had a number of informal requests from people wanting fur from our seals or the water they swim in.” — firstname.lastname@example.org