Rescued seal makes a welcome return

The seal back on St Mary's Island. The ring round its neck where the fur has failed to grow back is visible. Picture by St Mary's Seal Watch
The seal back on St Mary's Island. The ring round its neck where the fur has failed to grow back is visible. Picture by St Mary's Seal Watch

A grey seal saved after becoming entangled in a plastic fishing line has been spotted back at St Mary’s Island nature reserve.

The creature faced a slow and painful death but was rescued in a joint operation by local volunteers and released back into the sea.

Scuba divers remove monofilament fishing line on a dive at Browns Bay. Picture by Mark Husmann

Scuba divers remove monofilament fishing line on a dive at Browns Bay. Picture by Mark Husmann

Members of St Mary’s Seal Watch say the animal is now fit and well – but others suffer a lingering death because of discarded fishing lines.

Plastic pollution is harming marine life including seals, sea birds, fish and plants along the coastline.

Conservationists are appealing to fishermen not to dump unwanted fishing gear in the sea or on the shore because of the consequences.

The joint operation to rescue the grey seal was carried out at St Mary’s by members of St Mary’s Seal Watch (SMSW), British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade in 2015.

A Seal Watch volunteer spotted the distressed animal with high powered binoculars but the operation was tricky because of the location and size of the seal. Medics from BDMLR were called and SMSW secured the area so as not to scare the seal away from the rocks.

It was trapped then cut free by BDMLR medics before being released back into the sea.

Seal Watch has continued to monitor the animal using photo ID of the unique markings on its fur.

Sally Bennett, coordinator of Seal Watch, said: “It still bears the scars but is otherwise healthy. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident and more seals and sea birds have been disentangled from abandoned fishing gear on the reserve by volunteers before and since.

“This animal was lucky. Most will suffer a slow and painful death as a consequence of marine litter.’’

Underwater photographer Mark Husmann, a medic with BDMLR who took part in the rescue, said: “The fishing line was around the seal’s neck and had already cut into its skin. It would have killed it eventually. It is easily identifiable, as the line cut so deep into the neck that the fur never fully grew back.’’

Mark, a lecturer at Northumbria University, said: “This story had a happy ending but unfortunately many don’t. It’s heartbreaking to see animals suffering as a result of plastic pollution.

“We appeal to fishermen to help us protect our marine life and not pollute the sea and shoreline. When they chuck stuff overboard from a boat or into the river from the pier, or just leave their cut offs on the beach and rocks, it can have disastrous consequences.

“We frequently remove discarded monofilament fishing lines from the sea and when we organise beach cleans we find all sorts of potentially hazardous plastics.”