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


2006-10-24 12:56:37

From sunny Devon... seal pup monitored

On the afternoon of Tuesday Oct. 24th phone calls came in about a seal pup being 'stuck' in the rocks near Start Point, Devon.

Lissa Goodwin, West Devon Co-ordinator, Sue Davie, East Devon Co-ordinator accompanied by her daughter Laurie, and I (Plymouth medic), drove in the general direction whilst more intelligence was being gathered at head office as to the precise location of the incident.

After a frustrating drive with getting stuck behind slow-moving traffic, Lissa arrived at the correct spot: (Lannacombe beach) at the same time as me (What are the chances!), quickly followed by Sue and Laurie.

The pup was found above the high tide line, tucked away on a bed of seaweed at the closed end of a deep channel formed by steep rocks. It transpired that the female had spent much time searching for her pup, but could not find the spot where the little one had probably ended up that morning during atrocious conditions, with strong on-shore winds.

We found Nigel Mortimer (Devon Medic & Marine Conservation Officer SHDC*) guarding the pup, obviously very concerned about the little one’s desperate plight, and preparing to move it from its hiding place, with the help of local people, to make it easier for mum to find.

After a quick discussion with Lissa, it was decided to refrain from doing this, since the lingering smell of human hands on the pup may well have resulted in the mother rejecting it.

Nigel, being overdue at home, left, after we thanked him for his help, and we decided to stay until dark to see if Mum would find the pup after all. The youngster’s sporadic calls were drowned out by the sound of the surf. We made some pathetic attempts at crying like seal pups from close to where it was hidden, in the vain hope that Mum would come towards the sound. We must have made a very strange impression on passers-by, when they saw us peering into the surf, uttering morbid howls...

Sue, bless her, had brought hot coffee in true co-ordinators fashion, and this kept us going till long after dark, while we kept checking on the pup. In the end Lissa made the executive decision to leave things alone and asked Sue and me to return at first light, reasoning that, since the pup looked in excellent condition, the situation was not desperate enough to risk making a messy rescue attempt. Lissa, unfortunately had other work commitments meaning that she was unable to return with us the following day, however we had Dave McDonald (Assistant Co-ordinator), James Barnett (Veterinary Consultant), Chris Inman (RSPCA), the Jarvis family (Cornwall Team) and the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek on standby should we need to launch a tricky rescue.

It was still dark when Sue, Laurie, and I arrived at the beach the next morning. It was a heavy surf- breaking- on- the- shore / lashing rain kind of black morning, and the words 'only a maniac' sprang to mind. An inspection with my ten LED torch soon told us that the pup had gone.

After a brief spell in Sue’s car to get a little respite from the rain, we decided to split into two search units, each to take a piece of adjacent coast line. I had just started off when I encountered a small group of youngsters who had been there the night before, and who appeared anxious to know how the pup was. I told them it had left its hiding place and we were going to see if we could find it.

Just then one of the teenage girls pointed out into the surf and shouted “There they are!” Sure enough, there was mum, guiding her offspring slowly towards the eastern end of the little bay, I signalled Sue and Laurie with my torch, and they joined us. After a brief search from the cliffs we spotted the pair, well away from easy access, mother suckling her young. We stood in the lashing rain and gazed down at them for some time, not caring how wet we were getting.

Nature is wonderful...

Arie den Hollander
Plymouth Medic

* South Hams District Council