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


2009-01-04 09:34:25

Badly injured juvenile grey seal euthanased, Cornwall

Euthanased juvenile seal (photo: VLA Truro)At around midday, Animal Care Assistant Jenna Blacow at the National Seal Sanctuary contacted Coordinator Dave Jarvis about a juvenile seal approximately 5ft in length that had been found at sea just off Padstow. The seal had some kind of head injury and had hauled out on to the RIB that the divers who reported it were on. It was described as being active and lively, but was not being aggressive to any of the people on board. Dave, along with Medics Lesley and Dan Jarvis, Judith McCall and Assistant Coordinator/Veterinary Surgeon Darryl Thorpe attended at Rock, where the RIB was coming back in to be recovered.

Dave, Lesley and Dan arrived first along with Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network volunteer Brian Bartlett. At this point the boat was waiting in shallow water with the seal still on board. Dan waded out and observed a juvenile male grey seal lying motionless and unresponsive on the floor, but at this stage was unable to assess the head injuries due to the position the animal was lying in with relation to the steering console, although it could be seen that its eyes were constantly moving and apparently not working as they should and that it was breathing continuously and with difficulty. As the animal barely responded when touched, it was decided that the best way to proceed would be for the divers to haul their boat out onto their trailer and drive up the beach to the slipway where the animal could more easily be caught and removed from the boat and assessed properly by Darryl who had now arrived. When the boat was in place, Dan and Darryl boarded it with one of the divers and used an A-frame net to catch the seal, which again remained unresponsive to what was happening around it. The seal was secured in the net, lifted up and over and passed down to Dave, Lesley, Brian and the rest of the divers on the ground.

When in place, the net was removed from the seal. Dan straddled it and used a towel draped over its head to keep it still and steady, as due to what could be seen of the injuries so far it was not possible to restrain it in the normal way with the towel held under the jaw. Brian and one of the divers knelt either side of the rear half of the body to minimise any significant movement while the assessment was conducted. The seal appeared to be in good nutritional condition at approximately 4 years old and its temperature was normal at 37.2°C, but remained largely unresponsive. However, as Darryl moved to thoroughly inspect the head injuries it very quickly became apparent that it was very seriously damaged. The upper and lower jaws had been broken and fractured in numerous places and some teeth and whole sections of the jawbone also seemed to be missing. One side of the muzzle was torn open and the nasal bone was broken, which was causing the breathing difficulties. There was also a large open hole on the left side of the neck. A few small parts of the jaw fell out when the seal moved its head slightly during the assessment. Darryl quickly consulted with Chief Veterinary Officer James Barnett and a decision of euthanasia was agreed upon. Darryl, with the assistance of Judith, prepared and administered the lethal injection to the animal, which quickly passed away, relieving it from the huge amount of pain it must have been in.

The animal was taken to the Veterinary Laboratory Agency Truro for disposal by James once he had taken some samples and checked out the injuries in more detail. James and Darryl have since suggested that the most likely cause of these horrific injuries are most likely from being hit head-on by the hull of a boat, but had missed being hit by the propeller due to the lack of concurrent injuries. Due to the lack of bleeding when the seal had boarded the RIB it would seem to have been in this condition for several hours and it is surprising that it did not die from shock or blood loss in the meantime, and there was no possible way it could feed itself. The erratic eye movements would also indicate some form of brain damage.

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