Rescuers and supporters who saved a Cornish seal after it became entangled with a plastic toy hoop. Photograph: The Sea Life Trust.
Rescuers and supporters who saved a Cornish seal after it became entangled with a plastic toy hoop. Photograph: The Sea Life Trust.

Cornish seal rescued from beach plastic

5 min

Rescuers and supporters who saved a Cornish seal after it became entangled with a plastic toy hoop. Photograph: The Sea Life Trust.

Cornish seal swims free after rescue from life-threatening beach toy

Rescuers have saved the life of a grey seal after it was found with a plastic hoop stuck around its neck.

Holidaymakers and locals spotted the poor creature in St Ives harbour earlier this month. They were so concerned for its plight that they got in touch with Cornwall’s seal rescue network, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary.

Experts were concerned the ring could cut into her neck and cause serious wounding, infection – and possibly death.

Members from the organisations quickly jumped into action to put together a rescue plan to try to ensure the ring could be removed as soon as possible.

They were helped by the crew of the Dolly P Wildlife Safaris. The team tried to pull the ring off by hand after encouraging her to head towards the boat.

Sadly, the first attempt was unsuccessful as the ring remained firmly stuck in situ. The team were then joined by animal care experts from the Cornish Seal Sanctuary.

A new plan was devised and the harbour structure itself was used to entice her into the safe arms of wildlife experts.

Specialist equipment, including herding boards and an adult-sized seal cage, were deployed into the water with the team so the seal became used to the idea of them being in close proximity to her.

They eventually coaxed her into the cage where they could safely remove the hoop.

Protecting the environment: marine life from flotsam and jetsam

‘We were all on tenterhooks waiting for the right moment,’ says Dan Jarvis, BDMLR Area Co-ordinator. ‘It was critical that we didn’t spook her by charging in too soon as if we lost her back into the harbour then we might not get another chance to try this.’

Upon safely capturing the seal, the team were able to cut the ring off and return her to the sea – to the cheers of watching passers-by.

‘Saving this seal was a real team effort and I’m so proud of how our expert animal care specialists from the Sanctuary came together with the local volunteers and BDMLR crew to ensure a happy ending to this sad situation,’ says Tamara Cooper, curator for the Cornish Seal Sanctuary.

Rescuers saving ‘Wings’ the seal before removing the plastic hoop. Photograph: The Sea Life Trust.

‘We all know how dangerous plastic waste can be for our marine wildlife, but this is just one example of how our local seals can face life or death situations from something as simple as losing a frisbee in the sea.’

‘A huge thank you to members of the public who reported this seal and continued to keep us updated on her location as we prepped to rescue.’

‘We’re very fortunate to have an incredibly experienced seal rescue network in Cornwall, and rescuing injured or poorly seals is just one part of what we do.’

‘Our fingers are crossed that this seal will now live a long and happy life on our Cornish coastline.’

The seal had being catalogued by the Seal Research Trust in 2003 and is recognised as a regular summer visitor. She is known locally as ‘Wings.’

It’s thought this seal had spent a lot of time being fed by boats in the harbour. Experts say it meant she was more acclimatised to humans and at greater risk of anti-social behaviour, boat strikes and accidental entanglement in hooks and angling lines.

They add that it can be extremely difficult to help seals who become entangled with flotsam and jetsam as the animals often head into inaccessible areas.

Freeing the seal: Rescuers removed the plastic hoop before releasing ‘Wings’ into the harbour. Photograph: The Sea Life Trust.

Marine wildlife: warnings over feeding seals and marine litter

But despite the successful rescue of Wings, the organisations are now sharing a stark warning of both feeding wild seals and entanglement in marine litter.

Feeding and encouraging seals to follow boats and hang around in harbours all summer increases the chance of them coming to harm.

They add that plastic toys and hoops are an increasingly serious issue as seals can get caught up in them which can ultimately lead to a prolonged and painful death.

BDMLR, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary and the Seal Research Trust have all been campaigning to stop flying rings from being sold by retailers and then purchased by people who lose them when playing by the sea.

The groups would encourage everyone to think responsibly around the coast and to use the recently issued DEFRA marine wildlife watching code of conduct to minimise human impact on wildlife.

Photography supplied by The Sea Life Trust:

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