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


2006-08-20 12:00:04

Seal Rescue - Easington, East Yorkshire

Another Sunday, another seal... does no-one walk their dogs on any other day of the week? The call came through just before noon and my daughter Catherine and I set off for the coast. We know the beach at Easington pretty well so although the details we had were fourth hand (member of the public contacted RSPCA, who contacted BDMLR, who contacted our area coordinator who contacted us) and lacking in detail, we were confident of finding our way to the seal. 'On the beach near the gas terminal' gave us a direction to walk in, so we parked up and set off northwards. Although it was fine and not too cold, there was a strong breeze blowing in our faces and walking along the soft sand and shingle wasn't as easy as it looked, especially carrying all our stuff. We soon left the anglers and dog-walkers behind and had just about reached the start of the gas terminal complex with no sign of a seal of any kind or size when we spotted a couple of dog-walkers coming towards us so we went across and asked them if they'd seen any sign of a seal: they pointed seawards and sure enough, a few yards offshore bobbed a small dark head of a Common seal. We thought that was that, but when I asked when it had gone back into the sea they said some children had 'helped' it back into the water. Not good news! So we thanked them and they went on their way and we settled down to watch the seal.

It soon became obvious that it was trying to make its way back to the beach but was having difficulty swimming and was just drifting along the shore with the waves. I spotted some more dog walkers and went to head them off while Catherine kept watching the seal - the dogs walkers were very obliging and put their dogs on the lead and left the water's edge to walk along the beach well away from the water so as not to frighten the seal off; another member of the public came along and asked if she could sit with us to watch and together we waited patiently for the seal to come ashore again. It soon became obvious that the seal was very weak and as it reached the beach it had great difficulty getting through the waves, which were really very small, and kept getting rolled around by the ebb and flow of the waves. Eventually it managed to beach itself and collapsed, seemingly exhausted, a few inches beyond the edge of the waves. We waited to see if was going to move further up the beach but although it struggled a few more feet, it couldn't make it up the slope though the shingle and sand and just shuffled along parallel to the water before coming to a halt again.

This was the point at which we decided to telephone for advice. Great – once more, there was no phone signal! So we had to make an executive decision, and really there was only one way we could call it : we agreed that this was one which had to be caught, assessed and if necessary, brought in. So Catherine, being considerably younger and fitter, set off towards the water's edge to try and sneak up on the seal from behind. A healthier seal would have been more alert and would have noticed her approach – you can’t be stealthy on shingle! – but this one was so exhausted that she was quite close before it realised and turned to dive back into the sea. It didn’t take her long to pounce with towel at the ready, and although she got pretty wet in the process she secured its muzzle and tucked the seal under her arm while I, and our spectator, hurried down with more towels and our Ikea 'seal bag' which had proved so useful last week. Having lifted it a little way from the water, Catherine then checked the seal over and even a cursory glance showed it to be seriously thin although it didn’t have any obvious injuries. So, we decided to put it in the bag and take it in, and to ring in as soon as we had a phone signal. A couple of local fisherman (of the seal-friendly type) made sympathetic noises and showed us a way up the cliff to the easier walking of the cliff-top path and we made our way back to the car and settled the seal in.

A few miles inland we picked up a phone signal again and Catherine rang it in while I drove; we already knew that Scarborough Seal Life Centre's seal hospital was full so we asked Bev Drayton (North-East coordinator) to make the necessary contacts with the RSPCA and the local vet whilst we transported our patient. An hour later we arrived at the surgery to find the vet waiting for us; as we’d suspected, this little seal was even thinner than last week's and although around 2 feet long weighed in at a mere 10 kg. Not only did she (this one’s a little girl!) have a clearly visible neck and pelvis, you could feel her spine and her ribs. The vet checked her over and found some minor injuries to her mouth which were slightly infected but overall her health appeared good, apart from her low weight and lack of energy. She was quickly given antibiotics, painkillers and a multivitamin shot and the vet took her off to start rehydration and tube feeding, as he said she wasn't ready to make the long journey to East Winch. She is being kept at the surgery overnight and hopefully the rest, rehydration and feeding will see her ready to travel on for treatment and rehabilitation.

Monday 21st: this morning's report on the seal was good - she had been fed several times and was enjoying a swim in the hydrotherapy pool! All being well transport-wise, she will be making the long journey to East Winch tomorrow (Tuesday)

Catherine and I would like to express our thanks to the members of the public on the beach at Easington and especially to the Swanbridge Veterinary practice for their support, to the RSPCA for taking her for rehabilitation and once again to Bev as our coordinator.

Dianne Davies
BDMLR volunteer & Marine Mammal Medic