Elephant seal and ocean plastic

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

Elephant seal

For a few weeks our beach walks have circled around Buffel the subantarctic elephant seal. He comes ashore each year for a month to moult, living off his blubber. He doesn't just shed his fur, but also his skin, leaving bits on the beach that look like teddy bears or rabbits. Buffel is 4.2 metres long and 1,200 kilograms. Nine years old, another year till he is fully adult. Elephant for his inflatable proboscis! From IFAW

Subantarctic elephant seal Buffel before moulting
Subantarctic elephant seal Buffel before moulting

At first he was the same silvery grey as the sand he lay on. Volunteers made a token barrier of kelp. Later posts, tape and signs were added. Please stay at a respectful distance, quietly. Your dogs on leash.

Before in his old silver coat  Buffel was hard to see against the sand
Before in his old silver coat
Buffel was hard to see against the sand

Buffel was tagged in 2014 at Cape Point. His closest colony is on Marion Island almost two thousand kilometres to swim. From Animal Ocean

After he moulted he uses his flippers to scatter sand over his back to shield the sun. We have a sand sculptor on our beach. As we walked towards Buffel I saw someone touching Buffel ... but it was Michael Myekwa at work!

Buffel our elephant seal has moulted
Buffel our elephant seal has moulted

When there are fish in False Bay, trek fishermen take their small boat and net out. Back on the beach the full net is checked for by-catch and they are good about returning rays, sunfish and sharks to the sea. This was a bronze whaler shark.

Trek fishermen releasing by-catch Bronze whaler shark
Trek fishermen releasing by-catch
Bronze whaler shark

Yesterday and again this evening we will watch tracer bullets arc across the sky. Heavy artillery firing behind our mountain, and the earth moves and my ears hurt. Cape Town is the lucky recipient of this year's military exercise. Supposedly remembering lives lost in 1917 with the sinking of SS Mendi. Fighter jets. Tanks on the beach. Last night the cats (wary but not disturbed) watched wildlife on TV with the Ungardener.

https://www.wavescape.co.za/surf-news/breaking-news/all-fired-up.html
https://za.toluna.com/opinions/4517483/The-Battle-Of-Muizenberg

Perfect for township children already traumatised by gang warfare
https://www.vocfm.co.za/activists-in-uproar-over-sandf-armed-forces-shooting-display/

Ocean plastic

We went to the V&A Waterfront to visit Fleur de Passion. Built for the German Navy in 1941 for coastal defence and minesweeping. War spoils to France till the seventies. Rescued and restored from 2001. Now under a Swiss flag and dedicated to researching microplastic across the world's oceans.

Fleur de Passion  researching ocean microplastic
Fleur de Passion
researching ocean microplastic

There have been 17 artists in residence. Published sketchbooks to browse at their Our Spice Island Exhibition. A page from Frederik Peeters from Geneva who sailed from Madagascar to Mozambique.

Frederik Peeters
Frederik Peeters

His January hikes
in the mountains
around Cape Town

My Fynbos Rambles start again in March, but his invincible group climbs every week. Watsonia tabularis from Blackburn Panorama above Chapman's Peak Drive.

Watsonia tabularis
Watsonia tabularis

Looking down at Hout Bay from Skoorsteenberg.

Down to Hout Bay from Skoorsteenberg
Down to Hout Bay from Skoorsteenberg

From Third Rock Peak to a distant glimpse of the corner of Table Mountain.

Distant glimpse of Table Mountain
Distant glimpse of Table Mountain

Blue Disa graminifolia at Vlakkenberg.

Blue Disa graminifolia
Blue Disa graminifolia

He hikes with U3A each week.

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Pictures by Jürg Studer

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Comments

  1. Fascinating natural sights in your area. I enjoyed following the process of the Seal moulting. Beautiful views from the hikes remind me why I love to follow blogs showing the world through the eyes of those who live and experience these things daily.

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  2. I was hoping to see seals when I was away last weekend, but alas no they're in reserve for another visit. So it's a delight to see Buffel make an appearance on your blog. Chapman's Peak eh? I suddenly feel the urge to visit our namesake...

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    1. Chapman's Peak Drive is so spectacularly beautiful that it is sometimes used for filming flashy new cars. It is a stretch of our coast that makes my heart sing.

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    2. and also where I picked up that map of Africa I use as my blog signature.

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  3. What a Watsonia!

    Buffel is amazing.

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  4. Oh, that Disa! What a marvel it is - and Buffel too, of course. I'd never realized that elephant seals moult.

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    1. I think of snakes shedding their skin, or birds growing a fresh set of feathers, but fur AND skin is bizarre.

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  5. Thank you so much for your post, I always learn something new when I click onto your blog! Buffel really is amazing and I think it wonderful that you all look after him so well.

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  6. I never knew about seals molting. Very interesting! The Disa graminifolia is gorgeous.

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  7. The elephant seal must've been awesome to see. I feel like we're missing out a lot in Joburg :-(

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    Replies
    1. Buffel came with the January full moon, and has left with the February full moon. We miss him!

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  8. Amazing! Never a dull moment where you live, Diana.

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  9. What wonderful adventures you have :) Thank you so much for sharing them, they are so exciting to my Irish eyes xx

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  10. In your first photo, Buffel looks like he is stretched out for sunbathing! He is fascinating, and I have questions. Does he really travel all the way to Marion Island? Or does he stay in your area year round? Are there others like him nearby? What will he do when it's time to find a girlfriend?!

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    1. To all your questions - yes - he will swim 2000 km back to Marion Island. He is tagged so we have bits of his story. Hope he might come back to our beach another year. He only comes ashore for this moulting month. We might hear about AN elephant seal in Cape Town, but not every year. I can only remember a few others.

      One link I saw was a mother and her baby at Cape Point, time wise that might have been baby Buffel!

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  11. This is really something, Diana, to watch that seal up close. Good luck to him, I hope he stays safe.
    Amalia
    xo

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  12. It must be lovely to have weather cool enough to resume your weekly hikes. I'm looking forward to enough warmth and ice melting to resume my morning walks.

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  13. I'm fanatic about picking up plastic trash. Since we are so close to the ocean, plastic trash ends up there if thrown on the ground. Makes me so angry.

    Elephant Seals were almost extinct along the California coast, but they have come back--its a wonderful thing. I feel like picking up every bit of plastic I see maybe helps a little bit.

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  14. What an amazing experience it must be to see Buffel every year. I had no idea that they shed their skin and fur. Does that only happen when they're pups or life long?

    I read about the SS Mendi military exercise down there and it made me cross. I can understand the sentiment and honouring those who lost their lives, but children's lives are being lost on a daily basis in gang warfare and surely all that money could have been better spent on addressing that very real issue. And then there's the whole plastic thing. I don't even know what to say, we are such wasteful, disrespectful creatures. We only have one planet, unless I missed something and I cannot understand why we don't do everything we can to save her. Okay rant over, kinda. Thanks for sharing Diana, I always enjoy popping in

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    1. Elephant seals shed their skin every year, a month ashore every year. It is to do with them diving very deep in cold water.

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