Wildlife rescue: Seal with plastic ring stuck on neck for six years freed - in poignant anti-litter warning

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BDMLR rescuers had to try out a brand new technique to capture the large adult grey seal, named 'Commuter'

A seal which had a plastic ring stuck around its neck for at least six years has finally been freed - as his rescuers beg the public to pick up coastal litter to stop others suffering the same fate.

Seal Research Trust (SRT) volunteers have been tracking the adult male grey seal, which had been caught in a blue plastic ring, since September 2017. The seal, nicknamed 'Commuter' for his routine trips up and down the Cornwall coast, had previously favoured remote, inaccessible basking spots - which had made rescue attempts by BDMLR (British Divers Marine Life Rescue) impossible.

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SRT surveyor Andy Rogers told SWNS he had been checking out his local haul out site when he spotted Commuter on the beach with a small number of other seals, and an outgoing tide. He reported his findings to BDMLR - and they began making urgent preparations for a rescue attempt.

Marine rescuers had been tracking Commuter since 2017, after noticing the ring on his neck (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS)Marine rescuers had been tracking Commuter since 2017, after noticing the ring on his neck (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS)
Marine rescuers had been tracking Commuter since 2017, after noticing the ring on his neck (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS) | Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS

Safely catching and untangling adult seals from litter and debris can be dangerous, with the animals often weighing more than 200kg and becoming defensive when they feel threatened. Experienced handlers and specialist equipment were needed to help Commuter - and if he went into the sea, rescue would have been impossible.

SRT director Sue Sayer said: “Waiting for a rescue to be organised is hugely stressful. Despite Andy’s best efforts to speak to visitors and explain the situation’s need for caution, people on the clifftop still managed to disturb the seals below on three occasions."

Over the next few hours, a third of the seals on the beach had stampeded into the sea to get away from the perceived threat, she said, and their optimism for a possible rescue was dwindling. "Luckily, Commuter remained sleeping, so the first opportunity to rescue him in six years was not lost.”

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Catching and detangling adult seals can be risky (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS)Catching and detangling adult seals can be risky (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS)
Catching and detangling adult seals can be risky (Photo: Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS) | Andy Rogers / SRT / SWNS

BDMLR area coordinator Dan Jarvis stated the circumstances were "perfect" for the rescue mission, with low tide making it easy for them to deploy all of the equipment they needed - and plenty of medics onsite to help Mr Rogers keep the public away, and stealthily access the cove. “As there were still a few other seals on the beach, we had to focus on Commuter as the group became aware of us approaching and began heading for the sea.

"Using the cargo net we blocked his escape, while a herd board was used to safely keep two other adult males away from him and the rescue team," he continued. "After a standoff, we were able to wrap Commuter in the net to slow him down, then placed the stretcher on top to safely restrain him so his entanglement and injury could be assessed.”

The team discovered that the ring around his neck was an anti-foul paint tin seal which had likely been thrown away, but it had also not cut in as deeply as they initially feared. Rescuers were able to snip it off with bolt cutters, clean out the mildly infected wound, and release Commuter - who happily took off into the sea. He was spotted again not long after, resting in the water just offshore - finally free from the constant neck compression.

Andy Rogers said he was "so happy" the rescue worked out. “Not only was it a huge success for Commuter after more than six years entangled, but also for the BDMLR rescue team who were able to catch their first ‘healthy’ adult male seal using a new technique."

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While Commuter's future now looked brighter, Mr Rogers added that everyone must "do their bit" for the environment, to stop other wildlife from suffering. "Please make sure no looped or circular plastic items get lost at sea in the first place," he said. "We can all pick up lost items on coastal walks to prevent suffering and save a marine animal’s life."

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