Rare sighting of Elephant seal dubbed ‘Buffel’ as it visits Onrus

The elephant seal which has been dubbed Buffel, has made his appearance again, this time he was photographed baking in the sun and sand in Onrus. Picture: Supplied

The elephant seal which has been dubbed Buffel, has made his appearance again, this time he was photographed baking in the sun and sand in Onrus. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 6, 2024


Cape Town - An elephant seal named Buffel has made his appearance again, this time leaving residents of Onrus buzzing with excitement along the shoreline as they rallied via social media to protect it from being hunted by people or dogs.

The species originate as far as the Antarctic and are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Buffel has built a friendly reputation on Cape beaches when he is found baking in the sun and sand, known as being in a state of moult (new skin/ hair).

Buffel was discovered by residents and beach-goers, almost hidden by the white sand along Onrus beach at the weekend.

Images and a video of the rare elephant seal were shared on the Facebook group Vermont, Onrus, Sandbaai and Hermanus.

Buffel the elephant seal, which a rare sighting on local beaches, was pictured on Onrus beach. pic Facebook

Belinda Abraham of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA said Buffel was recognised and identified by a scar above its left eye and flipper tag #16577.

It was believed the rare mammal was born near South Africa’s coastline, but that they were a rarity originating from the Antarctic. She added that he was first spotted eight years ago.

“It seems Buffel has decided to haul out for his annual moult in Hermanus this year. He has been seen around many of our beaches over the last couple of years,” she said.

“Southern elephant seals are normally found in the Southern Ocean, with the closest colony being Marion Island, almost 2 000km away.

“So, sightings of the species are rare although it’s rumoured that Buffel was born on our Cape shores to a displaced mother.

“He was first spotted around 2016 and has hauled out for his annual moult on many Cape Town beaches from Llandudno to Fish Hoek ever since.

“Most haul-out sites are on Sub Antarctic and Antarctic islands which makes sightings of Buffel even more exciting.

“Buffel may look a little exhausted and a little thin as elephant seals do not hunt during a moult, he’ll be relying on his blubber reserves to sustain him for around a month while he sheds his skin.

“He is not sick or injured and doesn’t need to be chased back into the water or need water poured over him. Keep your distance, dogs on leashes and do your best not to disturb him.”

Abraham said Buffel formed part of the species which was on the IUCN list.

“Elephant seals play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. They contribute to nutrient cycling.

“Their excrement is rich in nutrients, and when they haul it out on land, it acts as fertiliser, promoting the growth of vegetation in coastal areas.

“This, in turn, supports various other species, including sea birds and invertebrates.”

According to Cape Town Freediving, Buffel was said to have evolved from the Pacific Ocean, two million years ago and two species were formed, the North Elephant, Mirounga angustirostris seal and South, known as Mirounga leonina.

They explained the mammal was larger than cows and could reach up to eight metres and weigh about 4 000kg.

One resident, Kaylim Kriel, took to the page, describing the seal as being an uncommon site:

“Elephant seal sunbathing in Onrus. Is it me or is this pretty rare?

“I have seen quite a few cape fur seals, but never one of these guys ... and never a white one.”

Another resident, Jared Wood, shared a video of the mammal, moving around in the sand while it lay cordoned off from the public for its safety and protection.

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Cape Argus