Unfortunately, by the time we received the call it was too late for a boat to return to the island. This is the part that can make trying to arrange a seal rescue so stressful. Often a seal is not in a convenient location (such as on an island), or our seal rescue network volunteers are not available at the time. It can be the most humbling and devastating feeling to know that there is a seal in distress but be unable to get to it, and this was the predicament which faced us that Thursday evening.
We made contact with Declan Bates who runs the ferry to the Saltee Islands, and tried reaching numerous other volunteers, working into the night to try to find a solution for the pup. When Friday dawned stormy and rainy, the prospects were very grim. The water between Kilmore Quay and the Saltee Islands is notoriously dangerous even on a pleasant day, and so we had to wait another day.
Fortunately, Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day. Having reserved space on the ferry, two of our resident volunteers Gale and Katy headed off.
The Long Search
When they landed on the rocky shore of Great Saltee Island, Declan pointed out where our initial caller had spotted the seal last. However, once they left the small strip of sand where Declan dropped them, the terrain quickly became difficult to traverse. Many of the rocks were covered in kelp which made them extremely slippery and difficult to maneuver. This particular shoreline was probably the hardest place to spot a seal as not only did the rocks look somewhat like seals from far away, but were configured in such a way that you could only see between them from certain angles.
Finally, after searching for awhile they noticed a different texture, followed by faint movement, and were relieved to have found the seal! However, on closer inspection the pup revealed itself to be perfectly healthy, and so they moved on. Gale and Katy went on to find an entire colony of grey seals, but after observing through binoculars they established that none of them had anything wrapped around their necks, and began to feel a little worried they were too late to help the injured seal.
Our volunteer Katy described her feelings when they headed back towards the boat without finding the entangled seal. “By the time we made it within view of the sandy landing strip I was feeling thoroughly defeated. I was thinking that we had already used up two of the four hours we had, and even if we found the seal soon it was bound to take a long time to capture and carry it back to where we would be leaving from. However, within moments my hopelessness turned to disbelief as who should appear on the exact stretch of sand that we had arrived on but a seal, with a very obvious entanglement around its neck!
Since the rocks were difficult to navigate we had left most of our equipment on that one stretch of beach, and the seal had paused to sniff our equipment with uncertainty. The irony of the situation struck Gale and I and we both started laughing. Here we were, observing from a distance as an injured seal sniffed at the very equipment we needed to catch it! The seal had emerged from the water so it was obvious that it was mobile enough to swim and make a quick getaway if frightened, and once in the water it would be impossible to capture. We knew that we would have one shot.”