When the East London’s beloved seal Ruff was washed out of the aquarium’s rehabilitation pool during last Thursday’s raging high seas, superintendent Steven Rheeder ran down the Esplanade until he lost sight of her and there has been no sign of the 17-year-old seal since.
Buffalo City Metro chief of marine services Siani Tinley said although there had been public sightings of seals at Morgan Bay and Bonza Bay, photos showed these were sub-Antarctic fur seals.
Ruff is a Cape fur seal that is used to being fed twice a day for 17 years and may not have the fitness needed to survive in the open sea.
While the loss of the seal is the facility’s greatest loss, the aquarium also sustained major structural damage to the tune of up to R1-million to its viewing decks, pump room, outside ablutions, electrical systems and the enviro centre.
“We are very sad and worried about Ruff. She has been with the aquarium for 17 years and has such a gentle personality. However, we do hope she beaches somewhere and a member of the public sights her as she is not scared of people. All the other animals are fine,” said Tinley, who urged the public to take a photo of any seal they see along the coastline for identification purposes.
When the Daily Dispatch visited the aquarium yesterday, workers were hard at work shovelling silt out of the drained rehabilitation pool under the keen eye of unharmed baby seal Milkshake, who observed the clean-up with interest.
Nearby, decking to the enviro centre was shattered while the deck which meandered down to the shark and ray pool (which has no occupants), was entirely destroyed.
A community-minded firm installed a makeshift plywood wall between the main seal pool and public seating.
Aquarium staff worked overtime to clear the pool of debris and install an emergency pump after the pump room, which services the seal pools, penguin pool and all interior viewing tanks was badly damaged.
Rheeder said he had watched helplessly as Ruff, who had been moved from the main seal pool as a companion for Milkshake just a week before the high seas hit, was sucked out of the rehabilitation pool after a massive wave hit during high tide.
“She swam into the shark and ray pool and got pushed to Eastern Beach, but then I saw her swim through the swell towards the breakwater. I ran down the Esplanade to see if she would wash up anywhere, but that was the last I saw of her.”
The aquarium is closed to the public as emergency repairs continue.