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A rare Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal brought to Taronga near death has been saved by veterinary staff to join other seals in Taronga’s care.

The young male was discovered lying under bushes behind Coniston Beach, near Wollongong. It was exceptionally malnourished, emaciated and unable to move.

National Parks and Wildlife Service Officers kept a close eye on the seal, however it had taken refuge at an off-leash dog park and in such poor health it could easily have been attacked. In urgent need of expert medical attention and a safe haven, the Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal was bought to Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital on 2 June.  

Upon arrival at the Zoo, Taronga’s veterinary team and wildlife staff did not hold much hope for the youngster, which is thought to be approximately 18 months old.

Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital Manager, Libby Hall, said: “His bones were showing and he weighed just 10 kilograms. He should have been at least another 15 kilograms heavier. He didn’t even have the energy to lift his head. He was very, very sick.”  

A thorough medical inspection found no obvious injuries and the Zoo’s medical team worked on warming him up, rehydrating him and slowly introducing him to food, starting with intravenous fluids and then progressing to a ‘fish slurry’ which is easily digestible, before introducing solid foods to his diet.

Franklin when he first arrived at the Taronga Wildlife Hospital
“Sometimes we do wish they could talk. We’re not sure what made him so sick, but he was a long way from home. Australia’s closest colony of these seals is on Macquarie Island, about 2000 kilometres away.”

“We have had Sub-Antarctic Fur Seals wash up before and it usually coincides with severe weather patterns. There have been huge storms across the Antarctic region recently and we’re pretty sure this young one got caught in the currents and didn’t have the body condition to put himself back on track, literally getting swept along,” said Libby.

Under an Australian and Antarctic wildlife agreement, animals washed ashore cannot be returned to the wild in case they introduce foreign diseases to the natural populations, endangering the entire eco-system, so the young seal has found a permanent home at Taronga’s Great Southern Oceans exhibit.   

After just a few weeks at Great Southern Oceans, the seal which the keeper’s have named ‘Franklin’ after the Franklin Island in Antarctica, is thriving.

Franklin has been assigned a trainer, Brad McKenzie, who is teaching him his ‘seal manners’ and has introduced him to New Zealand Fur Seals, ‘Mav’ and ‘Ronnie’ ,which was the most recent seal to be rehabilitated by Taronga after being attacked by a shark in 2008.

“Franklin is a great little seal and fitting in really well, he’s definitely got some attitude and making the most of his second chance at life. At the moment he is sorting out the pecking order with the boys, but it’s wonderful to be able to give him a home,” said Brad.

Taronga has a long history of treating and rehabilitating marine wildlife including penguins, pelicans and Leopard Seals. Taronga also hosts the Australian Marine Mammal Research Centre which conducts annual research in Antarctica monitoring and recording changes to marine populations.

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