Hope Gap Seal Rescue

The 7ft long 250kg adult Grey Seal was a long way from the tide
The 7ft long 250kg adult Grey Seal was a long way from the tide

Joint Press Statement from British Divers Marine Life Rescue and East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service.

A seal was reported on the beach on Sunday 28th April just east of the Hope Gap Steps, which are located just west of the Cuckmere Haven at Seaford. The initial report was of a healthy seal sunning itself. A second report came in half an hour later reporting a 4ft seal injured on the beach with blood on its rear flippers . I attended on site after speaking to BDMLR's Out-of-Hours Co-ordinator. On arrival we found Sussex Police on site due to concerns for public safety. We were rather surprised to find a 7ft long 250kg adult grey seal which do not normally haul out on the East Sussex coast line. The seal was also a long way from the tide and had hauled out at the high tide mark which is unusual for an adult. Unable to get a vet on site Sunday night, the seal was monitored till dark for the animal's and public safety, and volunteer medics returned at first light on 29th April where after a search of the area was found quarter of a mile west of the steps at Hope Gap.

Sussex Police were on site due to concerns for public safety
Sussex Police were on site due to concerns for public safety

The location was even more problematic and difficult to get to. We could not get the vet out quickly enough before the tide came back in. Medics returned a couple of hours after high tide to start searching for the seal which was so high up the beach it was at first missed. Once found very close to the Hope Gap steps, Alan Knight was called and attended on site after picking up a vet and vet nurse from Beachwood Vets in Seaford. After a joint assessment of the seal it was decided the seal was clearly ill, a visible pelvis showing it was well underweight, the eyes showed signs of cataracts, and the seal was allowing people to go close enough to touch it as its vision was so poor. There was no chance of rehabilitation. There were numerous abrasions and wounds from the rocks from where it had hauled out each time. This is not the same seal as has been seen in the local rivers recently.

BDMLR and East Sussex WRAS worked together on the rescue
BDMLR and East Sussex WRAS worked together on the rescuev

It was clear the seal was not going to move to a more accessible beach, and the decision was taken that as the seal was close to the steps this was our best chance of capture and recovery.

Trained medics from British Divers Marine Life Rescue and East Sussex Wildlife Rescue jumped the seal which put up some resistance at first but quickly gave in showing how unwell it was. The vet from Beachwood Vets in Seaford, then sedated the seal before euthanizing it which was very quick and the seal put up very little resistance again showing how unwell the poor creature was. A healthy large adult grey seal would normally be impossible to catch.

Members of the local Fire Service and Newhaven Coastguard organised the removal of the body
Members of the local Fire Service and Newhaven Coastguard organised the removal of the body

As the seal was then a hazard to humans, dogs and wildlife, it was necessary to remove the body of which there was a legal requirement to do so due to the drugs used to euthanize the seal. Members of the local Fire Service and Newhaven Coastguard organised the removal of the seal off the beach which was not an easy task, and involved getting the seal into a body bag and winching it up the steps on a stretcher then loading it onto the Fire Service's landrover which drove it up to the Seaford Head car park where East Sussex Wildlife Rescue's ambulance which took the seal away for safe disposal.

BDMLR and WRAS Medics spent over 30 hours from start to finish dealing with this rescue. The entire operation was very problematic and set a wide range a challenges for all the organisations involved and proved to be a very educational incident.

We would like to express our thanks to everyone involved for all their hard work and dedication.

- END -

Press Contacts:
Trevor Weeks MBE (East Sussex WRAS) - 01825 873003 or 07931 523958
Alan Knight OBE (BDMLR) - 01825 765546

Photos taken by Alan Knight and Kathy Martyn.

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