British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2007-05-24 15:13:31

Adult Grey Seal Rescue - Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, Kent

On Wednesday 23rd May, Sue White received a call from Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, on the Southern Kent Coast, as an adult grey seal was trapped in the inlet tank of the power station.

The triangular inlet water tank processes a high volume of water which is sucked into the power station. The constantly churning water meant the seal had to constantly swim or be dragged against the side of the tank.

Ten years ago a three seals did the same thing and as a result BDMLR drew up a protocol for dealing with this situation, so when staff noticed the seal they were straight on the phone to BDMLR for assistance. The incident was kept confidential and a minimum team of medics were call on to deal with the rescue in a professional manner.

Medics Alec Anscombe, Jason Carter, Frauke Fehse and myself drove to assess the situation. Our main concerns were that the seal was becoming stressed trying to climb up the walls; and becoming tired as there was no haul out site.

We had two main aims. 1) To provide the seal with a temporary haul out. 2) To provide a rescue platform and organise the materials and equipment to undertake the rescue and release.

We knew the crane would not arrive untill the following day, and we were worried about leaving the seal swimming all night. Alan Knight was asked to bring the whale pontoons across from the Uckfield office and Sharon Gisby was also asked to assist.

A 8ft x 4ft plywood board was attached to four scaffold poles and these were attached to the hand straps on the two pontoons. Ropes were attached and the temporary platform lowered the 40ft to the water. As the water rose and fell with the tide Alec and I stayed until 11pm to ensure the ropes were not too short leaving the pontoons high and dry; and the seal no where to haul out.

Stephen Marsh was asked to attend first thing Thursday morning to check on the pontoons and monitor the seal until the net arrived. Unfortunately the net was delivered to the wrong address causing several hours delay. However, the net finally arrived mid afternoon at Dungeness. A crane had arrived on site during the morning and when Alec and I arrived with the nets the seal was trying out the new 8ft x 8ft scaffold platform which had been made by the rigger from Dungeness.

Using the protocol established last time this occurred, ropes were threaded through the nets forming a draw string. The centre of the net was then secured in the middle of the platform which had a hard plastic base. Ropes attached to the four corners were threaded up through a strop on the crane to give an upwards lift of the net when the ropes were pulled.

The platform was lowered to the water level. On each rope was a BDMLR medic and a British Energy staff member. Within 10 minutes the seal was resting on the side, but no far enough in for us to be successful.

At one point the seal started playing with one of the ropes and pulled so the platform needed to be raised and re-set. Alan Knight arrived early evening and further adjustments were made to the net.

As the evening progressed further adjustments were made and about 9pm the seal hauled himself into the middle of the platform and the "go go go" shout went out and ropes were pulled like mad. The crane started lifting the platform out whilst the rescuers struggled to hold the massive seal which was thrashing round in the net.

Boards were placed around the sides of the platform just in time as the seal managed to escape from the net. Luckily the boards held the seal on the platform allowing the large transportation crate to be attached to one corner. Using the very technical method of 'using a broom' Alan encouraged the seal into the crate- even though the seal decided to go in backwards!

After some thrashing around the seal was loaded into the back of the veterinary ambulance and driven to a beach to the east of Dover. The seal was extremely heavy and certainly made the van rock about during the journey. Just after midnight the seal was unloaded and placed on the beach were a vet from Dover tried to check over the seals eyes, which were thought to be fine. The end of the crate was opened and seal clambered down the beach swam off out into the English Channel.

Our big thanks to all the staff at British Energy for there hospitality and support throughout the entire rescue and to the BDMLR medics for their long hours and dedication to getting the job done without being able to tell anyone until the rescue was complete.

Trevor Weeks
BDMLR National Coordinator