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

News

2007-10-26 15:50:56

Seal at Paull Shipyard, Humber

This is one seal whose rescue date I won’t forget – it was my wedding anniversary, and I was expecting a bit of a lie-in and cup of tea in bed. My mobile phone alarm was set for 8.30 a.m. so I was dozing and intermittently hitting the 'snooze' button and when the phone rang again I thought 'just a few more minutes' and hit the button again. Then I realised the phone was speaking to me! I picked it up to find Nick telling me there was a report of a seal at a shipyard in a village called Paull – did I know where it was, could I do an assessment and if so, how long would it take me to get there? Answers were 'yes,' 'yes,' and 'five minutes!' I was already throwing on clothes and digging out my boots, and quickly set off to the shipyard which is only 200 yards from where I live!

When I arrived there they showed me the seal – a Common pup – which had hauled itself out of the Humber estuary and decided to settle on the slipway. It had been penned in with planks to stop it wandering around in a rather dangerous environment - the spot she’d chosen was right under a ship in the process of being built ! The tide was on its way out, with hours to go before the next high tide and of course it just HAD to be Spring tides this week, with 9 metre-plus tides expected, so the water was retreating a long way. There was no way the pup could cross the expanse of mud flats already exposed and she also couldn't stay where she was. On examining the pup I found it was female, fat, fit and VERY feisty, with only a minor scrape on its nose which looked very recent and could well have been incurred on the planks penning her in, so relocation seemed to be the order of the day. I rang in my report and assessment and explained what I proposed to do – ring my daughter, who is also a BDMLR Medic and conveniently a Vet. Nurse, and was even more conveniently having a rare day off! – and together take the seal (via the vets’ for some Blue Spray) to Spurn Point nature reserve where she could be safely released back into the wild.

One of the vets came to have a look at the seal and Catherine restrained the pup while the vet, after several 'missed shots,' finally managed to anoint the graze with spray, turning it in the process into a newly discovered species, the Humber Blue Nosed Seal...

We then drove out to Spurn, a wonderful wildlife habitat managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who when we arrived waived the £3 admission charge and advised us to take her right out to the very point of the peninsula to release her. This we did. It was a long and hairy drive – OK for 4 x 4s but not so much for my rather elderly estate car! - then we found ourselves with 20 ft sand dunes to cross, carrying a rather chubby and wriggly seal! (Did I mention that she was feisty? Well, her sole aim seemed to be to eat one or even both of us!) I took her weight and Catherine restrained her head with the 'towel muzzle' technique, the box she’d been placed in at the shipyard proving impossible to carry with the added weight of the seal, and we clambered up and over the soft sand of the dunes.

We were delighted to see that the North Sea was absolutely flat calm. Of course, by then the water’s edge was MILES away, but at least this was firm sand, and we carried the pup out as far as the wet sand and put her down to see what she'd do (and to give ourselves time to get our breath back!) She looked all round, glared at us, gave one last growl and hiss, and set off seawards at a pretty brisk pace. We followed a short distance behind in case we were needed but we weren't and she went straight into the sea. She swam out a few yards and dived, resurfaced a few yards further out, swam out a bit more then dived again. We watched her swimming and diving, always getting further away, until she became a speck in the distance, dived again and we lost sight of her. We both stood there for a moment, pleased to have been able to rescue this little one so successfully, then went back to the car. That should have been the end of the story, but of course it wasn't – driving back along what passes for a road, we spotted a bird fluttering and scrambling along, unable to fly. Catherine caught it and on examination it was a Redwing, no obvious injuries so probably exhausted after its long migratory flight, and we handed it in to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust volunteers who had the facilities to keep it for rest, rehab and release, and finally left for home.

Thanks to: Ian and all the rest of the staff at Hepworth's Shipyard, Paull, for their concern and help; Andy and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust volunteers at Spurn Point; Jim and the Haven Veterinary Group, Hedon; and most of all to my daughter Catherine (now Catherine Hicks), who has far more energy, experience and seal-wrangling skills than I will ever have!

Dianne Davies
BDMLR Medic