Rescue of ´Sting´ - feisty seal pup with big teeth!

At 18.15 on Tuesday 17th of January 2006, I received a call from Dave Jarvis, one of our local British Divers Marine Life Rescue coordinators to ask me to go out to a seal pup hauled on the east end of Gwithian Beach, a popular local dog walking spot. Although it was dark, I know the beach well and had a good description of where to find the seal pup. Tony and his wife, Jenni, from Illogan had been walking their dog earlier that afternoon and reported the seal pup to the Seal Sanctuary.

When I arrived, my car was the only one in the carpark, but as I crossed the river bridge and approached the beach, I realised I was been followed by 2 people. It turned out to be Tony and Jenni - they had taken their dog home, but had continued worrying about the seal pup and wondered if there had been any response to their call for help, so they were glad to see me. I was delighted to see them, as this meant I could be directed straight to the pup´s location at the top of the beach above the high tide and under a low cliff of sand. Being first on the scene, I was aware of the rising high tide and assessed the seal as being unresponsive and lethargic, though without obvious injury. I called Dave back and was soon able to guide the BDMLR rescue team (Dave and Lesley Jarvis and Karl Wheston) to the scene.

The seal, who was later named Sting, was a borderline one to rescue, but after discussions with Tamara at the Seal Sanctuary, it was agreed Sting should be taken in for examination. If he proved to be healthy, he could easily be returned for release in a less public location. None of the Medics present had ´jumped´ a seal before, so I offered as I already had my waterproof trousers and latex gloves on! I managed to immobilise the seal and get it into the cage ready for transport, but not before it had bitten my thumb!

Sting turned out to be a particularly feisty seal, making capture challenging for even experienced seal handlers on arrival at the Seal Sanctuary, where I recorded for Tamara and Chris´ clinical assessment of Sting. This showed Sting had a very high temperature, was dehydrated and had low blood glucose level, along with several puncture wounds. It was no wonder he had been unresponsive on the beach, yet grumpy and aggressive once caught. It turned out the decision to rescue him had been the correct one.

By 22.00, Dave and Lesley had kindly driven me to Penzance Casualty Department to get treatment - a few bits of sticky tape to secure the loose flap of skin beneath my thumb and a big bandage to keep infection out of the split Sting had bitten into my thumb nail! I left with a prescription for antibiotics recommended by the BDMLR in a letter to medical staff. The hospital staff said that they welcomed the advice in the BDMLR letter, which had made my treatment much quicker and more efficient; commenting that they wished other organisations did the same.

I won´t forget my first opportunity to ´jump´ a seal, but I haven´t been put off doing it again - I´ll just be better prepared, more aware and will tuck my thumb well in!
Sue Sayer
Cornwall Seal Group