When people come visit our centre in Wexford, they often ask us what exactly goes on during a seal rescue mission.
Seal Rescue Ireland is the only dedicated seal rescue centre in Ireland. A rescue call can come in at any time, from anywhere, and it is impossible to predict so we always have to be prepared. We are especially busy during the seal pupping seasons (June-August for common seals and October-January for grey seals) but calls come in all year.
The Burning Questions
If someone calls us about a seal they think is in distress, we will first ask a few questions to try get more information. The kinds of questions we ask include:
Are there any obvious injuries or wounds?
Does it seem very thin, can you see bones through the skin?
Are their eyes dry, or are there big wet patches around them?
Is it very small, can you see another seal nearby, or in the water?
Questions like these can help us decide if the seal is in need of our help, just relaxing on the beach or waiting for its mother to come back. Seals often relax on land, and mothers can leave baby seals on land for a while as they go hunting. Touching a baby seal can frighten the mother away and cause it to be abandoned, so it’s really important we are sure the seal is in need of our help before we intervene.
Pictures Speak Louder Than Words
We will try get the caller to send us photographs, as visual aids are really helpful. If we think the seal needs our help, or might need our help, we will usually contact a member of our Seal Rescue Network. These are ordinary people around the country who have undergone a rescue training session with us and live nearby to the seals location. They can often get to the seal far faster than us and help us decide for sure if the seal needs help, and if so, they are trained to safely restrain the seal in a way that doesn’t put either them or the seal in danger.
Once the seal has been picked up, depending on the distance to our centre in Wexford, we could have a number of drivers who will rendezvous across the country and pass the seal to each other, usually in some kind of dog crate with towels. Seals don’t actually need to be in water to survive, and although they prefer the sea they can survive perfectly fine for days and even weeks without being in the water.
Once the seal arrives at our centre, our Animal Care Manager and volunteers will perform a number of checks. If the seal has some open wounds or serious injuries we will take it to our local vet for specialist care. Otherwise, the first thing we will do is check the weight of the seal, this can tell us many things such as the age, if the seal is underweight, and it also allows us to keep track of it and see if the seal gains any weight in the coming days.
Other things we will do are try and check if it’s a male or female, give it some electrolytes for energy (we sometimes jokingly refer to this mixture as “Seal Lucozade”!) and we will tube feed it a blended mixture of special animal milk and fish.
If the seal is very poorly or underweight, it is not unusual for the volunteers to undertake what we call “midnight feeds”, which involves feeding the seal regularly every few hours, including in the middle of the night!
For the first few days we usually keep the seal in an intensive care unit with lots of warm towels and a heat mat, and tube feed it regularly to help it get much-needed nourishment. This helps the seal relax and get better, just like people do in hospital! Once the seal has started to show signs of improvement, we will move them to a kennel, where they can enjoy a nice bath and continue to relax.
Once the seal has moved to the kennels, we will give it a name. Sometimes this name could be from the volunteer who was in charge of its primary care, or it could be from the person who found it and called it in to us. Usually our seal names will have a theme, such as nautical or superheroes, which helps make it a little more fun!
If you are interested in helping rescue a seal, we have regular training sessions around the country that have a small fee to attend. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page to see if there is a training event near you soon.
If you love seals but can’t commit to a rescue, you can adopt a seal and help pay towards its care, or you can come visit our rescue centre in Wexford which is open daily.