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


2010-04-23 16:01:05

Hastings Seal

Hastings sealEarly in the afternoon of Monday 12th April, I was called out by Trevor Weeks at BDMLR head office to attend a seal on Hastings beach, east of the pier, that a crowd had gathered round. In the 10 minutes it took for me to get there, the crowd had dispersed and the seal had gone back into the sea on the low tide. Although I then walked the beach and promenade for another half hour, there was nothing to see, so I went home.

A couple of hours later, Trevor called again as the seal had turned up again, this time west of the pier. The seal was being watched by a couple, but the crowd steadily grew and thankfully a local Community Police Support Officer was on hand to keep the more 'active' people away.

The Harbour Seal, a female, measured approximately 1.4 metres, probably weighed over 70kg and was therefore too large to jump single- handed. Its left eye was damaged and sunken, but as its right eye was healthy, bright and full, dehydration wasn't suspected. There was fresh blood on the lower lip and some in the nostrils, but after further observation it was decided that the nostril blood had just run in from the lip when the seal was lying on its back. There were also the usual cuts and seal bites around the rear flippers and the right one had evidence of minor abrasion along the leading edge. Apart from these, the seal seemed to be in good condition, well-rounded and with no signs of malnourishment so the main job was one of observation, PR and keeping idiot dog-owners to control their dogs. ( I say idiot dog- owners to differentiate them from the sensible dog-owners who kept their pets well away.) The seal had a fine set of fangs on it and wouldn't let anyone within 2 metres of it without lungeing at them - it really wanted some peace!

Hastings sealAfter about an hour, care staff arrived from the RSPCA Wildlife Centre at Mallydams, bringing a crate (too small) and a seal stretcher. By this time, I had formed the opinion that the seal just wanted a rest and that catching it would create more stress than was valid. Its left eye had been weeping continually and looked as if it was opening more - it may have been that there was sand in the eye and this was now flushed out. By using binoculars I could see that the damage to the lower lip was external and therefore it was unlikely that the blood had been coming from a mouth abscess, a common seal problem.

An RSPCA inspector turned up as well and agreed with me that the seal was better left to its own devices as it was incredibly feisty and looked to be in good condition. We were both concerned about stressing an animal that might not need human intervention.

Anyway, the decision was taken away from us as the tide had turned and the seal decided to return to the water, quite happily and without any pressure from us. Although I believe that on this occasion non- intervention and observation only was the correct course, I suggested to Head Office that if it appeared again later in the week, we should try to intervene in case my thinking had been wrong. We'll need a bigger crate and some muscle though!

I'd like to thank the sensible members of the public, the police, RSPCA Mallydams and even the Army who for some reason decided to take a look from their helicopter! Pictures of the seal have been sent to the Sussex County Recorder for Sea Mammals, Steve Savage, who maintains a library of Sussex seals for photo-identification purposes and might be able to identify this one from its pelage.

At Hastings we have a group of four other Harbour Seals that are frequently seen - these all carry tags on their rear flippers and so are likely to have been rescued and then rehabbed and released by Mallydams (this latest one had no tag). There is also one female Grey Seal that the local worm-diggers see on a regular basis.

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Advanced Marine Mammal Medic