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28 Jul 2021

Shark cage divers rescue penguin

Vanisha Moodley (South Coast Herald) Picture: Blush, the rescued juvenile African penguin.

A juvenile African penguin was recently rescued off the backline at Rocky Bay beach by John Miller, the owner of Shark Cage Diving KZN. John, who started his cage diving business on the South Coast 13 years ago, was on his way back from a dive with his team when they spotted the distressed penguin about 450 m off the beach.

uShaka Sea World Animal Behaviourist Kelly de Klerk with Blush.

“I went towards it with the boat and one of my staff members jumped into the water and we managed to bring it on board,” he said.

Once the rescue mission was completed and the team were back on land, uShaka Marine World was contacted to collect the penguin for rehabilitation and release.

When the penguin arrived at Sea World in uShaka, it was given the name Blush and is currently being cared for by uShaka Sea World Animal Behaviourist Kelly de Klerk. She estimated the bird be around four to six months old.

She said it was not uncommon for these types of animals to wash up along the coastline at this time of year, particularly during sardine season.

“What happens is that these birds follow the sardine run, especially the youngsters. They see sardines as easy meals and unfortunately get caught up in the currents and end up in our coastline.”

Another penguin currently in rehabilitation is believed to be around the same age as Blush and faced a similar situation on a North Coast beach a week before Blush was brought in. This juvenile was named Amber, and in no time at all the two became great friends.

When Blush first arrived at the centre, Kelly noticed that the penguin had a bad cut on her right foot, presumably from being bitten by another animal.

“After a few days, her foot started healing beautifully, she was given medication and has started to put on a bit of weight,” said Kelly. “She’s a fighter and is now doing really well.”

The young penguin weighed only 1.16 kg when she was taken to Sea World. After a few weeks of rehabilitation, she now weighs 3.1 kg. She has become more active and enjoys time in the exercise pool, or waddling around the enclosure with Amber.

The two birds are making excellent progress and preparations are being made for their relocation to SANCCOB Gqeberha Seabird Rehabilitation Centre, from where they will eventually be released back into the ocean.

At this rate, it looks as though the young birds might be leaving Durban in a month or so.

Kelly and her team thanked John for rescuing the penguin.

“If anyone finds a bird, the best thing to do is pick it up and put it into a box and move it into a corner in a dark space so that it does not become stressed. This is exactly what our rescuer John did for us,” explained Kelly.

“If you do find a penguin in need of help, don’t try to feed them and, if you find them in the water, don’t push them further in as they are already tired from swimming a long distance away from their home.”