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


2008-11-15 10:20:29

Second poorly adult seal put to sleep, Cornwall

Poorly sealDuring the morning, while setting up display boards at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network forum 2008 at Truro College, Coordinator Dave Jarvis had a message from the National Seal Sanctuary to say they had received some calls from concerned members of the public about an adult seal at Porthtowan. Dave, Medics Lesley and Dan Jarvis and Assistant Coordinator/veterinarian Darryl Thorpe immediately headed out to the site.

They found an adult female seal up on the high tide mark in a fairly unresponsive condition. She was severely malnourished, had what looked to be a sunken or collapsed right eye that was discharging a bloody fluid, there was bloody discharge from the nose and her breathing rate was high and continuous too. In addition to this there was an old partly healed injury on her head about 5cm in diameter and a few minor wounds on her body and flippers. She was somewhat alert to her surroundings but did not react when Medics approached more closely to assess her condition. Based on the experience gained a few days previously with another adult seal that had to be put to sleep, Dave and Lesley dashed back home to pick up Coordinator Tim Bain and some rescue equipment while Darryl and Dan stayed to monitor the seal and keep a number of people and their dogs a safe distance away. The information on the seal's condition was relayed to BDMLR Veterinary Coordinator James Barnett and National Seal Sanctuary Senior Animal Care Assistant Tamara Cooper, and a decision of euthanasia was quickly agreed upon. Animal Care Assistant Jenna Blacow from the NSS attended to assist with the monitoring and capture. In the meantime, the seal moved slightly every now and then, eventually finding a rock to rest her head on. For a moment it seemed as though she had died when she stopped breathing for about a minute and remained motionless, but then started with the more rapid continuous respiratory rate once again.

Once Dave, Lesley and Tim arrived with the rescue equipment, the plan of capture was run through with everyone. Jenna and Dan took a side of the A-frame catch net each, approached from behind and placed it over the seal, while the others waited to see if and where they were needed should the seal become active. However, the seal did not resist at all, so Tim was able to position himself over her back and covered her head with a towel as Jenna and Dan kept the rear end steady for Darryl to give the lethal injection. Moments after this had been done, the seal let out a long exhale as she relaxed. A check of her corneal reflex and also for a heartbeat using a stethoscope confirmed that she had now expired. Her body was taken to Veterinary Laboratory Agency Truro for a post mortem examination. James again carried out the post mortem and the malnourished seal was found to have significantly worn teeth, suggesting an aged animal, a significant gut parasite burden and a localised enteritis, and one eye was filled with a purulent fluid. Again, her poor body condition may be due to a combination of reduced vision and inadequate body fat reserves to sustain her during her last lactation. Further investigations are ongoing.

Dave Jarvis
Director and Cornwall Area Coordinator
British Divers Marine Life Rescue