The insistent barking of his dog alerted its owner to the plight of a young Grey Seal trapped beneath the huge boulders of the extra sea defence in front of the promenade wall at Rhos-on-Sea on Thursday morning. He put in a call that resulted in the arrival of a team from the Welsh Mountain Zoo Seal Rescue Unit to assess the situation; they will only intervene when it is absolutely crucial to the survival or well-being of an animal.
In this instance help was needed as the hapless youngster had worked its way through spaces between the rocks, ultimately becoming trapped. It was clear that the seal was unable to retrace its path back to the shore and was therefore also out of the reach of its mother. Someone said that the mother, spotted swimming offshore earlier, had been frightened away by a jet-skier, but in any case she would not have approached her baby whilst we were anywhere nearby.
The baby seal was still on shore level, but due to the slope of the boulders, from a rescue perspective he was at the bottom of a deep hole and underneath a rock. One of the team, Michelle, was small enough to squeeze down to reach the seal, but getting him out was another matter. A baby Grey Seal is born weighing in at around 14-15kg (30lbs), so no lightweight and the awkwardness of this one’s position further added to the problem. With no lifting equipment available, some creative thinking was called for and someone had the inspiration to try improvising a hoist from dog leads. There were plenty available amongst the small crowd of concerned onlookers that had stayed to offer moral support throughout the rescue and although not ideal, Michelle managed to loop one around the seal’s well-padded body and pass it up to the girls at the top, who carefully hauled him out.
It was unharmed and seemed fit and healthy, but the fresh appearance of his still-attached umbilical cord indicated that it was very young – probably no more than a day or so old.
It was hoped that by placing him on the shore close to the rocks that the mother would soon find him.
A LITTLE LATER
Passing the spot a short time later I heard him calling and spotted him in the water where he appeared to be struggling and was being knocked against the rocks by the waves of the incoming tide. There was still no sign of the mother; although she may have been nearby, any sight she had of people would be perceived as dangerous to her baby or herself and she would not approach, so the area needed to be very quiet.
Later again I returned to the promenade and heard the loud and plaintive calls of the baby seal as I crossed the road. They seemed to be coming from very close to the spot he had originally been rescued from and as I couldn’t see him from above, I walked along the shore edge to try to find where he was exactly. I was pleased to see Michelle who had received another call reporting that the seal was still there and sounding distressed. She climbed up onto the rocks and had a look around, but the seal had now stopped calling and could have been anywhere. She told me the RSPCA would return on Friday morning and if the seal was still there that they would take it to the Seal Sanctuary to be cared for.
THE NEXT DAY
I heard from Michelle, who is Head Keeper at the Welsh Mountain Zoo who had carried out the hard part of the first rescue attempt, she said:
” This rescue was one I’ll never forget. My muscles ache, I have bruises in odd places after climbing down the rocks into a small dark place. But it was worth it! I went down again after work (about 8pm), located it and with help from passers by and this time a catch pole that I brought with me, we got the seal out. It was in the wrong place and weaker than in the morning, so I brought it back to the seal unit where it is now much quieter as it’s not hungry anymore”.
Welsh Mountain Zoo – National Zoo of Wales
Colwyn Bay, Conwy LL28 5UY
ABOUT THE NORTH WALES SEA RESCUE CENTRE
Since the zoo opened in 1962 a wide variety of injured and orphaned native species have been brought in for care and rehabilitation. Most of this care, in recent years, has concentrated on young grey and occasionally common seals.
This work is carried out in collaboration with the RSPCA, and in 1997 the North Wales Seal Rescue Centre was opened at the zoo. The centre has two filtered pools and an indoor intensive care unit. This development, funded by zoo friends and supporters, has resulted in an improvement in the care given, and an increase in the number of animals treated, before their release back into the sea.
The RSPCA has advice on what to do if you think you may have spotted a baby seal in trouble: http://www.rspca.org.uk/utilities/faq/-/question/ENQWADStrandedSealPupsOnOwn