It was an early start to the day when the first call came in – 5 am to be precise!! An early morning surfer was reporting a seal on Putsborough Beach in North Devon. He wasn’t sure if it was injured or ill as it became aggressive and agitated upon approach, was it a white coat? – no, grey and fairly large. My request was to monitor it and report back if concerned.
It was 8 am before the calls began in earnest, a seal with eyes weeping pus and unable to use its left flipper with dogs approaching it. Both dogs and owners were in danger of being bitten by the seal and the seal in danger from the dogs.
Over the phone, en route to collecting coastguard Kay Johnson to assist, I questioned callers as to its size. Oh bigger than a Labrador I was told. Hew! – this surely was no pup and it was very early anyway, as pups don’t usually come in until the end of September/October. What to do if it was a full sized adult seal? But as always it’s a case of “attend and assess”.
Upon arrival Kay and I set off along Puttsborough sands, in the distance we could see a crowd gathered. Let’s hope it wasn’t really Labrador sized. On reaching the group we found a large seal pup – 29 ½ kilos in fact. And yes, it was certainly in need of veterinary care and a fast removal to RSPCA West Hatch, but this was not going to be easy.
As I returned to the ambulance to drive to a holiday maker’s house along the cliffs, Kay and surfers using their surf boards kept the poor old seal pup safely barricaded in. With the willing help of my gentleman holiday maker the big Vari-Kennel was carried down the 50+ steep steps and back along the beach.
By now the crowd had doubled and everyone was taking photos on their phones. (There is nothing quite like people with phones to make one very conscientious of everything being carried out correctly.) Seal “Pup” was gently ushered into the Vari-Kennel.
Now came the hard bit. I haven’t been doing this job for 23 years not to have learnt that you utilize help when it is at hand and a large group of fit young men and surfers is definitely to be utilized. I told them I’m no believer in equality when it comes to carrying a huge kennel plus 29½ kilos of angry seal a third of a mile along a beach and up 50+ steps, The response was immediate; we had enough volunteers to carry a family of seals 20 miles. Back at the ambulance our willing helpers – Russell O’brien from Exeter, Alistair & Thomas Watson from Hertfordshire and John Urwin from Cornwall, loaded Sebastian Seal (named by Russell O’brien’s little girl, Evie) safely on board and we were off to West Hatch.
Our arrival there brought some surprised looks for this was a pup of about 4/5 months old, born about March time which is about as late as it is possible and certainly one of the biggest new animals to be admitted. But Sebastian was not well and not eating.
For seven weeks Sebastian stayed under the kind special care of West Hatch experts and despite various blood tests etc., showing little amiss, he still wasn’t eating enough. It was then decided that although nothing was physically wrong with Sebastian, he needed the competition of other seals. Life was too easy and luxurious being the only seal pup in residence. (The new pups hadn’t started coming in yet.)
So arrangements were made with Gweek Seal Sanctuary in Falmouth to transfer him there so that he could learn that he had to work for his food. In late September Sebastian was on the final stage of his journey back to the wild. A winter at Gweek with friends of his own kind will teach him to cope with his deserved freedom next Spring.
Good Luck Sebastian, we were happy to play a small part in your life and our thanks to all those lovely helpers.
Many thanks to Russell O'Brien for supplying the video footage of the seal rescue on Putsborough beach.
Sebastian the Seal Poems
By Evie O'Brien - Age 7
By Charlotte Waring - Age 10