ON DECEMBER 8 2004, a grey seal pup was brought to Zoomarine’s Porto d’Abrigo, a rehabilitation centre for marine species, by the government’s Instituto da Conservação da Natureza (ICN), the institute for preservation of nature, after she was rescued from Peniche near the Berlenga Island in central Portugal.
The pup, estimated to be around eight weeks old, was found stranded on the beach with fishing hooks and lines surrounding her. After being transported to Zoomarine in Guia, she was x-rayed and found to have a fish-hook and part of a fishing line inside her stomach. Small, weak and weighing only 17 kilos (a healthy grey seal pup should weigh about 20), the pup was re-hydrated before an ultrasound and blood sample were taken.
Results from the tests showed that she had a high count of white blood cells, nearly double the healthy amount. A pup of her age should have around 6,000 and this seal pup had 12-14,000. The hook was causing an infection that could have badly affected her chances of survival.
Experts at Zoomarine chose to remove the hook and line by using a non-intrusive method. Instead of anaesthatising her and operating, which had a high risk of losing the animal, the vets fed the seal with very small pieces of cotton over a period of weeks. The cotton attached itself around the hook and slowly formed a cocoon around it, therefore providing a safe, smooth passage through the intestine and out of the seal.
After about three or four weeks, the vets found a cotton cocoon floating on the surface of the pool containing the offending hook and fishing line. After treatment with antibiotics, vitamins and the continuation of a normal diet, the seal’s white blood cell count returned to a normal level and, two months later, she weighs in at a very healthy 40 kilos. This is the second case in Europe for a seal to be rehabilitated this way.
The seal is thought to have come from either Northern France or Southern England and the ICN has decided that the National Seal Sanctuary in Cornwall, Southwest England, is the best place for her to go before being released back into the wild.
You can see the seal at Zoomarine, however, as a wild animal, the experts there have decided that, during her rehabilitation, she should come into as little direct contact with humans as possible, ensuring that she will not come to rely on them for food. Therefore, her pool has been covered, but there are ‘spy holes’ that you can look through to view this adorable little seal. Louise Pimm