Flipper the grey seal gets lucky!

On 3rd August 2017 Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust´s (CSGRT´s) Sue and Kate went out on one of their twice weekly surveys of the West Cornwall seal complex. Usually at this time of year, seals are hauled on the offshore island, but the rough seas and cooler temperatures have obviously confused the seals, leaving Sue and Kate surprised to find a good number hauled on the mainland site instead.

As Kate began counting, aging and sexing the seals, Sue was taking photos to enable the individual identification of each seal.
1 Lucky Flipper - Photo by Sue Sayer CSGRT
2 Abseiling down cliff - Photo by Kate Hockley CSGRT Suddenly they spotted an extra seal lying on its own at the back of the beach. Although nearly invisible, as Sue zoomed the camera in, she was saddened to discover that the young male seal (one of last year´s pups) was actually entangled in a long piece of monofilament net. This was cutting in deeply around its neck and there was no doubt that the seal would not survive without being rescued.

Whilst rescues are not always possible given weather, sea and tide conditions, combined with how close the seal is to the sea and the number of other animals present, Kate and Sue were hopeful that a rescue might just be possible.
They rang British Divers Marine Life Rescue´s hotline number (01825 765546) and their Welfare Development and Field Support Officer Dan Jarvis was soon on the scene and agreed that a rescue might be possible.

A rope safety team of Chris Howell and Phil Knight were mobilised, while Tamara Cooper, Animal Care Curator at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, arrived to assist as well. As a crowd gathered to watch, the rescue team made their way down the steep cliff.
3 Rescue team immobilise seal - Photo by Kate Hockley CSGRT
4 Cleaning the wound - Photo by Sue Sayer CSGRT Dan said "we have to go down the cliff as stealthily as possible to avoid alerting the seals to our approach, otherwise they will head back into the sea before we get anywhere near them and we may never get another chance to rescue the victim.

Luckily our combined experience of this very technical type of operation, also involving a short abseil of a sheer section at the bottom of the cliff, went undetected by the seals, allowing Tamara, Sue and myself to get on to the far side of the beach. We then had to creep around the back of the cove to remain out of their sight until we were close enough to make the final dash to capture our target seal."
Tamara added "the seal struggled a lot at first, but settled down once we covered its head with a towel to help me straddle and restrain it safely.

Meanwhile, Sue and Dan were able to use a recurved knife to cut the net from around its neck and clean out the wound, which was deepest across the back of its neck. Saltwater is great for helping wounds stay clean and heal, and our past experience makes us confident that this animal would be able to recover on its own without the need for further rehabilitation."
5 Releasing Lucky flipper - Photo by Sue Sayer CSGRT
6 Lucky flipper off at a rate of knots - Photo by Sue Sayer CSGRT The team confirmed that the young seal was actually a boy before the towel was removed and, sensing freedom, the seal spotted the sea and accelerated off at top speed for the surf. Without a second glance, "Lucky flipper" was off to join the numerous heads bobbing about just offshore. Keen to do all they could to help seals, the rescue team did a quick "two minute" beach clean and were able to remove 23 single use plastic bottles, five other small pieces of dangerous monofilament net, four fishing buoys and numerous bits of plastic.
All the litter was packed into rucksacks for the ascent back up the rope to the clifftop, where onlookers gave the rescue team a huge round of applause.

Back in the office, Sue and Kate were able to confirm that "Lucky flipper" was the same seal that BDMLR had tried to rescue two days earlier but had not been able to do so as a helicopter had flown low directly over the cove just prior to the rescuers leaving the clifftop, which had spooked some of the seals, including Lucky flipper, into the sea.
7 Bringing rubbish back to clifftop - Photo by Kate Hockley CSGRT
8 Some of the litter removed from the seal haul out - Photo by Sue Sayer CSGRT "Lucky flipper is just one of over 300 entangled seals that CSGRT have recorded around the Cornish coast in the last 18 years. Many of these have been rescued by BDMLR, but we know from Cornwall Wildlife Trust´s Marine Strandings Network that others have died very quickly as a result of their injuries" said Sue.

She continued "we can all help prevent this problem for seals by recycling fishing gear prior to the end of its life, never discarding gear at sea and by doing beach cleans to remove those bits of gear that get lost during storms."
"Cornwall seals are so lucky to have fabulous joined up network of people willing to help out at a moment´s notice when a seal is in trouble, along with partner organisations who help us all make the Cornish seas cleaner and safer not only for seals, but other marine life too.

By working together we all keep our shores a place we want to revisit, as it makes us feel happier and healthier when we out and about around the coast."
9 Net removed from Lucky Flipper - Photo by Tamara Cooper CSS

British Divers Marine Life Rescue is an international marine animal rescue organization, UK based and a Registered Charity. The aims of the organization are to provide a rescue service for all marine wildlife, to provide support to all existing rescue centres and to develop new methods of treatment, transport and care.
Email: info@bdmlr.org.uk Website: British Divers Marine Life Rescue

Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust is an evidence based conservation charity conducting research aimed at putting grey seals on everyone´s agenda by giving seals a voice and inspiring people to learn more about this globally rare species.
Email: sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk Website: www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk

The Cornish Seal Sanctuary is the only fully operational seal rescue centre in Cornwall. The seal sanctuary provides a lifeline for stray, sick and injured seal pups which have been discovered around the Cornish coast, rescuing up to 60 seal pups every year. The Sanctuary is also home to resident creatures - not only seals, but also sea lions, humboldt penguins, asian short clawed otters and ponies, goats and sheep.
Email: georgina.shannon@merlinentertainments.biz

UPDATE: Sue and Dan from CSGRT and BDMLR did an interview with BBC Spotlight about this rescue. Click here to watch.

For more information and video footage from the rescue
Please contact Dan Jarvis on 07810 460603 or dan@bdmlr.org.uk
Press Release Issue Date: 14th August 2017

Photo Credits:
1) Lucky Flipper by Sue Sayer CSGRT
2) Abseiling down cliff by Kate Hockley CSGRT
3) Rescue team immobilise seal by Kate Hockley CSGRT
4) Cleaning the wound by Sue Sayer CSGRT
5) Releasing Lucky flipper by Sue Sayer CSGRT
6) Lucky flipper off at a rate of knots by Sue Sayer CSGRT
7) Bringing rubbish back to clifftop by Kate Hockley CSGRT
8) Some of the litter removed from the seal haul out by Sue Sayer CSGRT
9) Net removed from Lucky Flipper by Tamara Cooper CSS