Many people who visit our rescue centre wonder why the seals have come into our care. One of the most common reasons why a seal needs to be rescued is because they have become caught in a net or some kind of plastic waste.
A Rising Problem
Every year more than 100,000 marine creatures die from plastic entanglement in marine debris. Researchers have estimated that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the sea than fish.
Unfortunately this problem is only getting worse. In the past decade alone, fatal entanglements and consumption of marine debris by marine animals has increased by 40%. This has been evident to us as we have had numerous seals which came in with varying degrees of entanglement.
How Plastics Kill
Entanglement can harm seals in many ways. What usually happens is a young seal gets trapped in some form of plastic, often around the neck. When the seal continues to grow far bigger, the plastic does not and it gradually digs into the seal. This can cause a slow and painful death as their wounds become infected. Larger debris like nets can also prevent them from swimming or hunting properly, leading them to starve. This is why speed is imperative when dealing with an entanglement case; the sooner we get the plastic off the animal, the least amount of damage is done.
Real Life Stories
Tristan, a grey seal pup found on Annestown Beach in Waterford in December 2017, was found entangled in a “ghost net” – an old fishing net that was lost or left in the sea. Fortunately we caught him in time and the net hadn’t yet become embedded in his skin. This meant we were able to simply cut it away from his neck.
Earlier in 2017, another young seal named Merida came to us with monofilament fishing line wrapped around her neck. As she grew, the line had cut into her blubber and flesh, causing deep wounds. The line caused enough pressure on her head to push her eye out of its socket, meaning that by the time we caught her, her eyeball had to be removed. Luckily seals don’t rely on their eyesight to hunt, using their whiskers to detect vibrations in the water to find fish instead, and Merida made a full recovery.
Even more recently, just last month we rescued a grey seal pup, Maui, from the Saltee islands in Kilmore, Co Wexford. He had a net tightly dug into his neck when he was found, but is making a good recovery now it has been removed.
Help Save The Seals
All these seals were lucky – seals who become entangled and are not found can easily die from starvation or suffocation, or from contracting infections in the wounds caused by plastic cutting into their skin. It is not always possible for us to rescue every seal with entanglement issues (they are too big to safely handle, they are impossible to get to etc) and the sad reality is that seals and other marine animals die every day because of waste in the ocean.
As the leading producer of plastic waste in the European Union, Ireland has a huge role to play in resolving this problem. By reducing our plastic use and reusing and recycling used items, we are doing our bit to protect seals and other marine life from ending up in a situation like Tristan and Merida were in – or worse.
For information on what to do if you come across a seal that is entangled, click here. If you would like to find a creative way to deal with your plastic waste, you can read our blog post about ecobricks here.