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


2006-10-25 12:59:01

Seal pup rescue - Welcombe Bay, Devon

Sue from HQ called at about 13.15 about a distressed seal at Welcombe Mouth. After initial hesitation (you know the workload tight now!), I enlisted Emma for an extra pair of hands, and set off for Welcombe. We arrived at the same time as another local medic, Hannah Water and searched rocks close to the steps down to the beach. The seal pup was so quiet we missed it at first, but a group of tourists found it, along with the third medic to arrive, Victoria Cartwright.

The grey seal pup was very quiet and docile, with blood all around its chin and thick pale green discharge streaming from the eyes. Most time was taken in trying to relay messages and pictures back to BDMLR to in order to get advice over whether to try and remove the seal from the beach. No mobile signal in that valley, so lots of walking and driving back towards the village. We were instructed to collect the pup and take it to a vet (can't remember which one) in Bude for further assessment/treatment, before it was taken on to West Hatch. Hannah did a great job of getting the pup into a plastic crate which between us we took the pup up the beach and back to the car park in. Hannah (well equipped with a wee panel van) took the pup on to the vet.

Ross Compton

Pup transfer report

At around 5pm I received a call from Sue White at HQ requesting if I could assist in a relay of a seal rescued from Welcombe beach, North Devon. The seal was reported to be 60-80cms long, bleeding from the mouth, with "gunked up eyes" and partially moulted. We arranged for Hannah Walters to bring the seal from Welcombe vets (where it had received fluids and treatment) and meet us at the Roundswell industrial estate, Barnstaple, for me (and my Dad who was cementing a step!) to assess and relay the seal to RSPCA West Hatch. The seal had been tube fed at Welcombe vets prior to transport. Unfortunately there had been an accident near Roundswell so we were delayed, and on arrival met Hannah, who told us the vets staff had had some difficulty getting the seal into her van!

On opening the boot of the van we found the seal was a little larger (and feistier) than we were expecting! I jumped the seal (who was simultaneously attempting to escape Hannah's van and spray copious amounts of nasal fluid on anything in range) and transferred her to our car at around 6pm. During this process we found the seal was particularly vocal, and we got some strange looks from MoPs (the location for transfer was a petrol station next to a Wimpy!) Once in our car I started to examine the seal, I found she was a female grey seal and assessed her to be in poor condition. Despite being large, aggressive and vocal, she was thin, had purulent green discharge from her left eye and also thick discharge from her right eye. There was an open lesion (diameter ca. 1cm) on the underside of the left rear flipper, and swellings on both flippers, with numerous nodules palpable on the foreflippers. Her dorsal surface had further lesions and associated alopecia, and she also had some nodular lesions on her ventral surface. Her breathing was rapid and laboured, with severe moist rale sounds audible (without stethoscope auscultation), her respiratory rate on collection from the van was very high (near human rate) and continuous. She had copious amounts of nasal discharge and severe oral bleeding. The inside of the mouth was bleeding from a wound, the teeth were blackened, and the presence of severe halitosis was rapidly noted. I palpated the seal and attempted a TPR assessment: temperature was 33.8 degrees C (hypothermic), pulse was impossible to obtain due to animal's aggression, and respiration is noted above. Her palpebral reflex was good, but her eyes were in very poor condition and were mostly held closed. A CRT was not helpful as the mouth was full of blood and the gums inflamed, with severe gingivitis and recession. I also noted she had no umbilicus, was larger than expected, and was actually a moulted greycoat.

We then left Roundswell with the seal, whose respiratory rate was still high. she actually opened her eyes while mounting an escape bid, moving around and peering at me, before vocalising and covering me with a very forceful exhalation ! Her respiratory rate settled at ca. 18 br/min, but she remained quite vocal. The animal`s halitosis was becoming increasingly apparent, the smell in the car being worse than a necropsy. At this point my Das noted "a smelly day was had by all "! Although her respiratory rate had settled she still lapsed into patterns of rapid breathing and showed signs of going into dive reflex and decreasing responsiveness several times. At one point it became apparent that she was becoming a little too unresponsive, and I decided to try and rouse her and keep her conscious- however I didn't want to increase her aggression or stress levels and so started to talk and sing to her. Her responsiveness levels remained very concerning, but thankfully, during a seal-responsiveness-checking chorus of ABBA's 'Does your mother know that you're out' she took a breath, peered at me, and started vocalising !

We got off the motorway at Taunton, but had difficulty finding West Hatch and ended up driving towards Minehead! After a phone call to Shaun Clements (West Hatch vet) on the seal and the exact location of West Hatch, we eventually arrived at ca. 7pm. We assisted RSPCA staff to move and weigh her. She was 13.7 kg. We then took her to a holding pen where the RSPCA staff administered a deflammatory oral spray, cleared her eyes and tube fed her. Her temperature was ca. 30 degrees C. Her eyes showed signs of ulceration and possibly cataracts. A large oral laceration, many ulcerations and associated pathology were found to be the cause of the oral bleeding. She had oral ulcers and black lesions, her teeth were in a very bad state, the enamel blackened and gums receded. A nodule (5-6 inches down on her right hand side of the chest) and a swelling of the right hand side of the head were noted. Once treatment was finished and necessary details recorded (including the seal's name "Tina" assigned during transport !) we left West Hatch and headed (yet again) to a petrol station, this time to attempt to clean the car, which now smelt thoroughly of Tina the seal's severe halitosis, and returned home. The next morning I phoned West Hatch who said she survived the night, and HQ rand to say that she was ca. 4-5 weeks old.

The seal callout livened up the day (prior to seal care I was revising A level cellular respiration, and before "seal ambulance driving" Dad was cementing) and due to the seal's condition, temperament and the smell in the car, this relay certainly won't be forgotten!

Chaynee Hodgetts
Marine Mammal Medic