An elderly elephant seal made a 5,000km journey for a 4-day summer vacation near Mossel Bay

Business Insider SA
Glen on the beach
Glen the Ellie. (Photo courtesy of S.M.A.R.T)
  • A larger than life elephant seal made paid a rare a visit to Glentana, a quaint Western Cape coastal town between Mossel Bay and George.
  • Glen’s arrival coincided with a typical chilly Western Cape storm, but while humans would have found the weather miserable it was like taking a summer vacation for him.
  • "Ellies" are considered novelty sightings on South African shores. This species of elephant seal are typically found in the frigid waters of the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, 5,000km away.
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A larger-than-life elephant seal made a 5,00km journey to pay a visit to a beach at Glentana, a quaint Western Cape coastal town between Mossel Bay and George, before snaking off into the ocean on its next adventure four days later.

Nicknamed Glen, the male Southern elephant seal, was spotted by a resident from Mossel Bay who reported a funny looking thing on the beach to the Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team (S.M.A.R.T.) on 26 June.

“Glen was quite an old seal. We could tell from the fact that his coat was very light and especially his head was very light. He had multiple scars form pervious battles. He was a bit on the thin side, but not so thing that we were concerned,” Janine Pereira CEO of S.M.A.R.T told Business Insider South Africa. 

Named because of the trunk-like nose that males develop as they mature, a fully gown male can reach three tons in weight, while females come in at around 800kg.

"Ellies" are rare sightings in South Africa. But, from time to time, they have been known to haul themselves out onto a beach where they can rest and recuperate after months spent out at sea.

(Courtesy of S.M.A.R.T.)

“We don’t know why he came ashore. They are known as ‘rare vagrants’ and quite a novelty when they do come. It was the first time our S.M.A.R.T. members were able to monitor a male elephant seal since we opened in 2015,” said Pereira.

The last time S.M.A.R.T members found an elephant seal was back in 2018 when "Leslie" rolled up to undergo her moulting process, which takes around six weeks.

Glen's arrival coincided with a typical chilly Western Cape storm. While humans would have found the weather less than desirable, for Glen camping out in the cold weather would have been like a summer vacation. His species of elephant seal is typically found in the frigid waters of the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, 5,000km away.

“For him it was perfect weather. We were standing there dressed up like Eskimos and he thought it was absolutely wonderful,” said Pereira.

According to the non-profit's Facebook page, Glen was carefully watched over by a team of volunteers who refrained from posting about the sighting until he had left, in case the news encouraged visitors to contravene lockdown regulations to see him.

“Sadly you will find people come too close to these animals and they will start stressing them,” said Pereira.

Seals may come across as very docile and slow animals, but they are enormously powerful and are able to inflict serious injury. It is not recommended that you go closer than five metres to one or speak loudly near them.

Volunteers found the rotund Glen without much effort. Coming in at approximately 4.9 metres in length and weighing around 2.3 tons, he was hard to miss. 

Twice daily Glen’s heart rate and breathing rate was monitored and sent through to Frans de Graaff at the Hartenbos Animal Hospital and a S.M.A.R.T veterinarian.

While newcomers like Glen may be rare, Buffel the elephant seal has been a regular visitor to SA's Cape Point shoreline making regular appearances for his annual moult, reports News24. Another one named Barney was spotted in the V&A Waterfront in March.

After four days of beach bumming, it appeared as if Glen had had enough and his movements picked up. By the evening he lugged himself around and heaved his way back into the ocean.

“We have not had any further sightings of him, but our volunteers are on alert to see if he does come back,” said Pereira.

According to S.M.A.R.T. the number of stranded marine animals have been on the rise in recent years. The current working theory is that they are roaming further afield than before in search of food.

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