Antarctic seal in town – Let it be free..!!

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http://www.sundaytimes.lk/191215/news/you-better-watch-out-antarctic-seal-in-town-382887.html published on 15.12.2019 on SundayTimes

It seems the elephant seal from the Antarctic might be here for Christmas, continuing to attract crowds and cause traffic jams in Colombo. The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) that was first spotted on November 20 off Unawatuna has been resting on rocks off Wellawatte and Kollupitiya in Colombo, creating traffic congestion along the Marine Drive as curious crowds gather to watch it.

The closest colony of southern elephant seals is 6,500km from Sri Lanka, in Antarctica. This seal, which has apparently been driven here by ocean currents, is resting on Lankan beaches while going through what is termed a “catastrophic moult”.

“The moulting is an annual process for elephant seals go through and that is why its face has strips of fur falling off. This will happen all along its body, and the moult takes about four weeks,” marine mammals expert Dr. Asha de Vos of Oceanswell said.

“During this period the animal is basically shedding hair and skin, making it look pretty scabby but also making it pretty grumpy – please respect its need for space,” Dr. de Vos said.

She applauded navy and wildlife officers for controlling the crowds to give the seal rest.

When the seal was first sighted off southern Sri Lanka, it was speculated that the animal was sick as it was often seen passively resting on rocks. There was an attempt to capture it to check its health, but Dr. de Vos said the animal was healthy.

“The information going around that the animal is sick is not accurate. We have continued to monitor its body condition and have been talking with seal experts in the USA and South Africa who work with these species.

“Our assessment is that this animal is healthy and going through a completely normal process, so leave it alone,” Dr. de Vos appealed.

As the moulting process may take few more weeks to complete, it is thought the Antarctic seal will celebrate Christmas in Sri Lanka before heading back home or wandering the seas.

No respite from onlookers

The Southern Elephant Seal spotted on the beaches in the stretch between Kollupitiya and Wellawatte is being disturbed by curious onlookers who are attempting to feed the animal, take pictures and touch it.

In the absence of any wildlife officials to protect the animal, people were also seen throwing small stones or pebbles at the animal to gain its attention before snapping a picture.

At times Navy personnel who were present were able to keep the public away, but in their absence the people were seen getting closer to the seal and trying to touch it.

The seal, at times was seen taking evasive action to avoid the crowds by getting back into the water and surfacing from another spot, but only to be disturbed by onlookers all over again.

 

 

Bambalapitiya beach: The seal continues to attract crowds. Pix by Amila Gamage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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