Seal saved from blue plastic ring following 'persistent' six year long rescue

  • Watch the moment the team at British Divers Marine Life Rescue freed the seal

A seal has been saved from a plastic ring caught around its neck following a six year long rescue mission led by a Cornish charity.

Volunteers at Seal Research Trust (SRT) have been tracking the adult male grey seal, nicknamed 'Commuter' since September 2017.

He had become caught in the blue plastic ring and had been travelling up and down the north coast- hiding in inaccessible locations, positions or beaches.

His location made a rescue attempt impossible on the grounds of safety.

On Sunday 14 January, SRT surveyor Andy Rogers spotted Commuter high up a beach on the North coast of mid Cornwall when carrying out his regular checks.

The tide was outgoing, so he reported this to the rescue team at British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and urgent preparation for a rescue attempt began.

A team of experienced handlers and specialist equipment were used to catch Commuter and bring him back onto land safely.

The team found that the plastic ring, which had been compressing Commuter's neck was a carelessly discarded anti foul paint tin.

It was snipped off with bolt cutters, and the cut it had caused was cleaned out.

Commuter was then released and made his way back to sea.

Following the rescue, Sue Sayer MBE, Director of Seal Research Trust explained how hard it was to coordinate.

She 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 couple of hours, a third of the seals stampeded into the sea to get away from the perceived threat and Andy’s optimism for a possible rescue was dwindling.

"Luckily, Commuter remained sleeping, so the first opportunity to rescue him in six years was not lost.”

BDMLR Area Coordinator Dan Jarvis added: “when our team of Medics arrived, circumstances were perfect. It was low tide, meaning access was at its easiest for us with all the equipment we needed, including a cargo net, herd boards and a stretcher.

The BDMLR team working to free the seal from the plastic ring. Credit: Sharon Trew BDMLR

"We had Medics assist Andy on the clifftop raising awareness of what was happening to prevent further disturbance incidents, while a team of six Medics stealthily accessed 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. 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.”

He added: “I am so happy. I would like to thank everyone involved in this major operation. 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.

"Well done for a great team effort and a miraculous rescue!”

The organisations are urged people to ensure no looped or circular plastic items get lost at sea in the first place, by picking up lost items on coastal walks and reporting any rubbish they spot.