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

News

2012-09-01 14:56:15

BDMLR rescue seal from Dungeness B Power Plant

Seal rescued from Nuclear Power station after a week-long operation

A team of volunteers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) along with EDF Energy staff and contractors have successfully rescued and released an adult Grey seal from a large water inlet tank at Dungeness B Nuclear Power Station.

The seal had managed to get through a grille on the 5.5 metre diameter sea water inlet pipe before entering the massive open-air water-holding tank. This tank has constantly-churning water flowing through it which cools the reactor at the power station.

BDMLR Operations Manager Stephen Marsh received a call from Dungeness B on Monday August 13th 2012 and immediately called the charity’s South Kent coordinator Lyn Griffiths and Trevor Weeks, BDMLR’s previous National Coordinator (who now runs East Sussex Wildlife Rescue Ambulance Service), to go and assess the situation.  Trevor had overseen a similar operation in 2007 at the plant and therefore his experience would be invaluable.

Stephen Marsh said ‘Seals are incredible animals and can squeeze through gaps that on the face of it they shouldn’t be able to. Although the seal had entered the tank, the constant flow of water at pressure meant that it would not be able to return back to the sea the same way. This female grey seal, approximately 1.8 metres long and between 120 and 150 kg in weight, had a ready supply of fish in the tank and so was not in immediate danger, but eventually would tire at having to swim constantly in the strong flow.”

Having lowered a temporary platform into the tank for the seal to haul out and rest on, Trevor Weeks and BDMLR’s Chair, Alan Knight OBE, briefed EDF Energy staff on the construction of a more robust rescue platform that would be lowered into the tank by a crane and lowered and raised with the tides.

Once the crane had arrived and the newly constructed rescue platform with specially rigged ropes and netting had been lowered into the tank, a long process of monitoring ensued.  BDMLR volunteer Lyn Griffiths was able to take the week off work and monitored the seal during daylight hours.  Lyn reported “The seal, who we called Cecil but then changed to Cecilia when we realised she was female, was in her element with a ready supply of food coming through the grate into the tank.  She showed no signs of stress other than being less than charitable to the many herring gulls that were also fishing there and she hauled out onto the platform rarely and then just rested on the edge of it, confounding any attempts at rescue.”

By Saturday the seal had still not hauled out fully and for the weekend Lyn was joined by Alan, Stephen, BDMLR’s rescue administrator Julia Cable, BDMLR’s North Kent Coordinator Jon Brooks and BDMLR medics Sharon Gisby and Steve Green.

But Cecilia the seal refused to haul out and continued eating happily in the swirling waters for the weekend, having not rested fully on the platform for three days.

Alan Knight attended on Monday, a full week after the seal had entered the tank. He says “BDMLR has a lot of experience of rescuing marine mammals in tricky situations, but the length of time this seal had been in the tank was a real cause for concern as it showed no signs of wanting to leave. It’s a great credit to EDF Energy that we were called to rescue the seal in the first instance and the resources of people and equipment that they made available to us really is to be commended.”

The platform was re-rigged to a slightly different configuration and thankfully during the day Cecilia decided that she needed a rest and hauled out on the platform a few times.  The ropes were pulled on two occasions without success but she was eventually safely captured and lifted out at around 3.30.pm.

Having been encouraged into a crate, the seal was then transported to Ramsgate where Jon Brooks and his team at Horizon Sea Safaris and BDMLR volunteers had prepared their boat ‘Micki Dee Bee’ to take the seal out to the Goodwin Sands where both grey and harbour seals haul out at low tide.

Cecilia was successfully returned to her natural habitat none the worse for wear (if a bit fatter!) in the early evening.

Martin Pearson, station director at Dungeness B, said: "From previous experience we knew that BDMLR were the right people to call.  Staff and contract partners here at Dungeness B worked closely with the BDMLR volunteers and we are delighted that the seal has been safely rescued and released. Safety is our watchword at Dungeness and I can confirm that this applies to seals as well as humans!"

Thanks are due to all the staff and contractors at EDF Energy for their hospitality and support throughout the entire rescue and to the BDMLR volunteer medics for their long hours and dedication.

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager