Aban­doned seal pups – what to do if you find one

The Oban Times - - Outdoors -

THE SCOT­TISH Sea Life Sanc­tu­ary, near Bar­cal­dine, res­cues as many as a dozen in­jured, sick or aban­doned seal pups ev­ery year.

A res­cue nor­mally be­gins with a tele­phone call from a mem­ber of the pub­lic. Staff at the cen­tre will try to gather as much in­for­ma­tion from the call as pos­si­ble by ask­ing ques­tions about the lo­ca­tion, size and con­di­tion of the pup.

They will also ask whether there are any adult seals nearby as some­times the mother is just off-shore wait­ing to come and col­lect her pup once the peo­ple have left the area. From these ques­tions, staff try to work out if the pup is in trou­ble or if it has just hauled out for a rest.

Of­ten they ad­vise the caller to leave the pup alone for a num­ber of hours and to check on it later. If the pup is still there af­ter 12 to 24 hours the seal care team will go and check the sit­u­a­tion them­selves. If the pup re­quires care it is brought back to the cen­tre’s seal pup nurs­ery.

Iso­la­tion unit

The iso­la­tion unit is an area of the nurs­ery sep­a­rate from the main nurs­ery where new ar­rivals are put till they are sta­bilised from their jour­ney.

On their ar­rival at the cen­tre, the pups are given an ini­tial as­sess­ment to es­tab­lish what is wrong with them. The seal care team records their weight, tem­per­a­ture, sex, make sure they have no in­fec­tious diseases that could be passed on to other pups in the nurs­ery at the time and agree on the pro­gramme of treat­ment. The pup then re­ceives its first feed which is nor­mally re­hy­dra­tion flu­ids.

Some­times the pups that come in are very weak or very young and will need fed ev­ery four hours, at least five times a day.

Nurs­ery pens

As the pups get big­ger and stronger, the team grad­u­ally cuts down the num­ber of feeds so that nor­mally af­ter three or four weeks the pup re­ceives its last feed at 9pm. The team nor­mally starts work at 8am, check­ing all seals in the nurs­ery fol­lowed by the first feed. The new­est ar­rivals are given a for­mu­lated seal milk called mul­ti­m­ilk or a spe­cial fish soup (liq­uidised her­ring and re­hy­dra­tion flu­ids).

As the seal gets stronger staff can re­duce the fre­quency of feeds and in­crease the quan­tity of food. Solids are then in­tro­duced in the form of a small amount of whole her­ring. Grad­u­ally the pups are weaned off the fluid feed and switch on to a full-time diet of her­ring.

Wean­ing pool

Once the pups are hand feed­ing on whole her­ring, they can be moved to the wean­ing pool (2.5m by 4m) which has a haul out area and is quick to drain and fill. Here the pups learn to eat her­ring by them­selves with­out the seal care team hand-feed­ing them.

It is good for the pups to be in the wean­ing pool be­cause at last they have ac­cess to water, which en­cour­ages them to swim and build up their mus­cles.

Out­side seal pools

When the pups reach 20-25kgs and are able to feed on whole her­ring pro­fi­ciently they are moved out­side to the main seal pools with the res­i­dent adult seals and any other seals in the process of be­ing re­ha­bil­i­tated.

They are now only fed twice a day and have to com­pete for food with other seals in the pool, which means they build up their swim­ming strength and speed.

The seal care team mon­i­tors the weight of the pups care­fully and checks how much they have gained each week. The tar­get weight is 35kgs for a com­mon seal and 45kgs for a grey seal. When the pups reach this they are ready for re­lease.

Dur­ing their stay in the cen­tre the pups are tagged. This is done so that if the pup was found in dif­fi­culty af­ter its re­lease the team would know its his­tory. How­ever, the team has never had any of its seal pups found in trou­ble af­ter their re­lease.

The re­lease day

This is a very ex­cit­ing day for the seal care team.

The seal pool is drained first thing in the morn­ing to al­low them to catch the pup. They nor­mally try to re­lease the pups in pairs or threes.

The seals are loaded into the back of the van for the jour­ney to the re­lease site. Ev­ery so of­ten, the staff stop to douse the pups with sea­wa­ter to pre­vent them from over­heat­ing.

A suit­able seal re­lease site should be near an ex­ist­ing seal colony, be in a rea­son­ably shel­tered lo­ca­tion, have no fish farms close by and be iso­lated from hu­man in­ter­fer­ence.

Once they get to the re­lease site, they lift the pups to the shore’s edge in their car­ry­ing cage, lift the gate and let the pup flop into the water by it­self.

When two pups are re­leased at once they some­times stick close to­gether but, in­vari­ably, af­ter a while, go their sep­a­rate ways. Staff al­ways stay to see how the pups get on. Some pups take their time and in­ves­ti­gate ev­ery­thing, while oth­ers make a bee­line for the open sea and don’t look back.

Do’s and don’ts

Do keep you dis­tance. The mother will only re­turn to feed her pup when she thinks it is safe to do so. If there are peo­ple close by she will not come ashore.

Don’t at­tempt to han­dle the pup. The mother may re­ject her pup if it is han­dled. It is a wild an­i­mal, it may bite and can carry in­fec­tious diseases.

Don’t at­tempt to put the pup back in the water. It may be out of the water for a good rea­son.

Don’t ig­nore the sit­u­a­tion. If the pup is thin, in­jured or seems un­well (noisy breath­ing, runny nose, cough­ing) it needs help.

Do tell an ap­pro­pri­ate or­gan­i­sa­tion. Call the SSLS on 01631 720386 or con­tact the near­est SSPCA of­fi­cer.

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