by Steve Savage
It was late Tuesday evening on the 16th August 1994 that
I received a call from Carl from Southern Marine Life Rescue.
As I lived near Brighton, Carl asked me if I would go and ascertain the condition of the seal and decide what to do next. On arrival at the beach, it was already dark, the wind was gale force and the sea was very rough. To make things worse, the undercliff walk was closed because of work on the sea defences. The seal was some distance from the public coast road, so my wife drove me carefully down the slope to the undercliff walk, avoiding large holes, missing walls and the odd crane almost completely blocking the promenade.
On the way we were met by Nick, who had first discovered the seal. He led us further along the undercliff walk until we finally reached the stranded mammal. The pup was not moving and only visible as a dark shape. Taking a torch and blanket from the car, I made my way around the far side of the seal to get between it and the water. I slowly approached the seal, who began to shuffle up the beach. I quickly threw a blanket over it and the seal immediately stopped struggling.
It was difficult to make an assessment on the beach, so we carefully carried the pup on to the undercliff walk. The wind was howling in my ears, and it was only when we got the seal into the car that I could hear that it was having a problem breathing. It sounded like a respiratory infection. Apart from that, the pup looked in fairly good shape and was not thin or emaciated. I was also able to confirm that the pup was a Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, as expected. I was able to borrow a mobile telephone from Louise, a young lady who was also concerned about the seal. I reported the situation to Carl at Portsmouth. The sea was still very rough and I would not have been happy returning the pup to the sea, even if it was completely fit. The chalky platform just beneath the waves would have been an additional hazard. At high tide, the seal would be washed back out to sea if left where it was. It was then that we decided to take the seal home, and Carl and the team would meet us with veterinary help.
Back home in Portslade, the seal was released into our bath. A few sore patches were visible on its body, which later we discovered were peck marks made by gulls. The seal's breathing was laboured and faster than normal (possibly, in part due to stress). The seal lay there looking very sorry for itself. After about 15 minutes, it perked up and started to look around inquisitively, and shuffled around the bath a few times.
When the vet arrived we were able to handle the seal and
found that its heart rate and temperature were also above normal. The pup
also appeared to be dehydrated. As Carl held the pup's head, the vet inserted
a stomach tube, while I poured in a measured amount of fluids. The seal
was also given a course of injections. The seal would need to be given
fluids in this way every four hours. It was originally decided it would
spend the night here and that my wife and I would give it fluids. However,
on a practice attempt, I was unable to get the tube in the seal's mouth.
I was a bit disappointed by this, but when the vet tried she was unable
to do this either. The first time, we had been able to do it before
the seal realised what was happening.
It was decided that the pup would spend the night with the vet and be sent up to the Seal Sanctuary in Norfolk the following day. The seal's condition was monitored, as we would not be able to move it until it had stabilised.
Taking a seal's temperature is not like taking a human's. You can't put the thermometer in the seal's mouth or under its flipper. Under the vet's supervision, I took the seals rectal temperature. I think the seal took this indignity very well. The seal eventually left our house for the vet's surgery just after midnight.
A call from the vet the following morning brought good news. The seal was still stable and had been transported to the Seal Sanctuary. It is hoped that the seal will make a full recovery and be released back into the sea. The pup, almost certainly, come from the Wash area originally, so it's the most sensible place to release it. There it will be with other seals, rather than off the south coast where seals are rare visitors. It was great to be involved in the rescue and we are all looking forward to news of its release. A special thanks goes out to Nick, Nick's dad and Louise for their help in the rescue.
If you find a seal pup on the beach, do not approach it and certainly do not touch it. Seal pups look cute and cuddly but they can give a nasty bite. Any incident should be reported to the Coastguard or the Police and they will contact an expert. Someone with experience will assess the situation and have the knowledge to take the appropriate action. Not all the seal pup's found on the beach need rescuing.
For further information on 'Seal Rehabilitation' see 02.02.12-16.
Steve Savage worked with seals
at the old Brighton Aquarium.
Two species of seals are found in the seas around the British Isles. They are the Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus, which hauls ashore on rocky shores, and the Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, which hauls ashore on sandy beaches.
In the summer of 1993, Susanne Herbert spotted a seal
in the sea off Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, a most unusual occurrence.