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


2008-11-22 09:11:57

Seriously ill seals washed ashore by rough weather in Cornwall

poorly seal pupAfter an uncharacteristically quiet period, the seal rescue season returned with a vengeance at lunchtime on 21st November. Area Co-ordinator Dave Jarvis and medic Lesley Jarvis were on their way home from visiting the National Seal Sanctuary at Gweek when they had a message from Animal Care Assistant and medic Dan Jarvis to advise that a call had just been received and that he was on his way to a pup on the beach a Portreath. Because there had been a pup on the same beach early on the previous Tuesday morning, which had been chased back into the sea by dogs, Dave quickly made his way to the location in order to secure the scene. Upon arrival, Lesley quickly located a small pup in a crevice under the cliff face and obviously malnourished and underweight. Dan arrived moments later with volunteers Rebecca and Rhian, and they gave the pup a full assessment. It was female and had a temperature within the normal range, but was estimated to be around 11 – 12kg in weight and also had nasal discharge with ruckly breathing noises. It was decided that the pup should be uplifted and taken it for rehabilitation.

After leaving the beach Dave and Lesley made their way to Baripper near Camborne to meet medic Trevor Waterhouse, who had found a local metalworker who had offered to construct a new cage for the area, but immediately upon completion of the meeting at 14.30 a call was received from the Seal Sanctuary to advise that another pup had now been brought into them by a member of the public and that it was in an extremely serious condition, but that another report had been received about a pup at Porthcurno. Picking up Area Co-ordinator Tim Bain en-route the group made their way to the location, but it appeared that the animal had gone back into the water, possibly having been chased by dogs.

At 10.00 on 22nd the first call of the day was received from the Seal Sanctuary to a pup at Sennen Cove, which had been located by a Dr Cashman. Dave, Lesley and Dan were already in their vehicle and made their way down towards Lands End. On the way they endeavoured to contact a couple of local medics and Colin Pringle also responded to the incident. Upon arrival a small underweight pup with a lot of nasal discharge was soon located with the assistance of Dr Cashman and his wife. Colin arrived a few moments later and commenced assisting Dan with a clinical inspection of the animal, but just as they were doing this a further call came from the Sanctuary about another pup a Wherrytown, near Penzance, so Dave requested Colin and his family to go back to this location to secure the scene and report back, whilst the Sennen pup was caged up and prepared for transportation to the Sanctuary.

Saying their farewells to Dr and Mrs Cashman, Dave, Lesley and Dan then started out for Wherrytown, but as they were travelling along the A30, Dan received a call from Colin, which prompted him to ask Dave to go even faster as the pup that had been found was convulsing. After some creative driving by Dave, Dan and Lesley were soon on the beach with the animal, which was fitting and foaming at the mouth on the water's edge. Colin used a digital thermometer but it was not possible to get a reading as the pup was too cold (later investigation showed that the minimum reading for this type of thermometer is 32°C). A decision was quickly made that the urgent services of a Veterinary Surgeon were required andDave instructed Colin’s partner to go on ahead to Rosevean Vets to advise them of the situation, whilst the animal was gathered up into a seal bag and held on Dan's lap for the dash across town. En route Lesley advised James Barnett by telephone of the situation. Upon arrival at Rosevean, the animal and medics were shown into a consultation room where they were met by Kate, a Vet and her nurse called Pip. The animal, which had not long stopped convulsing, was examined but it was still not possible to register a temperature from it. Towels were placed around the animal and over its flippers to try to increase the temperature. Kate, having never dealt with a pinniped before, was pleased to be offered expert assistance over the telephone and as James was now out of signal range, BDMLR vet Sean Langton, who was visiting Hyde Park, was immediately brought into the situation and began advising Kate on how to proceed. In the meantime the pup started breath holding and appeared to have died, but was brought around with some gentle rocking of the body, movement of the head and testing the palpebral reflex. This activity continued every few minutes for about an hour.

Dan showed Kate how to get a blood sample from a seal, and they tested the blood glucose level, which revealed that the pup was severely hypoglycaemic with an extremely low reading of 2.0 on the glucometer. Glucose was given to the pup intravenously and some more added to rehydration fluids, which were tube fed by Dan on the table with the help of Kate and Dave, while Pip took the temperature again, getting a good reading of 36.7°C, as Lesley continued massaging the rear flippers and hocks through the towel to keep the temperature from falling again. Oxygen was also administered for a few minutes and seemed to improve the animal’s breathing rhythm. Some time later, Kate took a second blood sample to monitor changes in the blood glucose level, which had improved to 3.6, although this was still well within the low range. However the pup was now recovering and starting to become a bit more responsive and alert. At one stage all five of the personnel involved were working on the animal to maintain it’s vital signs.

The seal pup that had been rescued from Sennen continued to be monitored in the car throughout and was tube fed fluids by Dan and Lesley after the pup from Penzance in the Surgery recovered to a relatively stable condition. Because of the known availability of isolation pens at Gweek, Dave made contact with Shawn Clements at RSPCA West Hatch to advise him of the developing situation. As it happened Shawn was at that moment being assisted in weighing some of the seals already at that facility by Devon Assistant Area Co-ordinator Dave McDonald. Dave then passed a message to the Seal Sanctuary Hospital to advise on the current situation with both pups, following on from which Animal Care Assistant and medic Clare McGowan decided to make her way to the Surgery to check on the condition of both animals. When she arrived and due to the serious condition of both animals Clare decided that it would be in their best interests for both of them to go to Gweek, instead of the 2 hour journey to Somerset. She issued instructions to the rest of her team at the Sanctuary, Amy Hudson, Jenna Blacow and Catherine Howarth, to cascade the pups already at the Sanctuary Hospital, following on from which the pup from Penzance was placed in a cage brought by Clare and both pups moved in convoy to the Sanctuary for clinical assessments and treatment.

Thank you to all of the members of the public who reported and monitored pups whilst they were picked up, the BDMLR medics and veterinary personnel, Kate and Pip at Rosevean Veterinary Practice and all of the Animal Care Team at the National Seal Sanctuary, who worked around the clock and gave up their days off to deal with all of these animals.

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