We hope you are enjoying your holiday. But give a thought to how innocent toys can cause terrible harm to wildlife.
FoHS has been helping to raise public awareness of how toys enjoyed by people and dogs can threaten the lives of seals around coastlines here and abroad. Flying rings and similarly shaped throwing rings for dogs provide hours of fun and exercise but become potentially dangerous to seals if lost or abandoned in the sea.
FoHS wardens have joined others in handing out information leaflets and displaying posters hoping to stop more of these rings ending up in the sea where they can be found by young seals. The danger comes when the seals get a ring lodged around their necks and are unable to remove it.
The growth of the seal leads to terrible cuts as the plastic cuts into its flesh and ultimately impedes its ability to catch fish and restricts swallowing.
A seal with a ring around its neck cannot help itself – but you can help by always taking your flying/throwing rings, and all plastic items home with you.
It was a blistering summer day when helpers arrived at Winterton-on-sea beach car park to set up exhibits and display materials at the launch of an awareness campaign to reduce the danger to seals of plastic rings.
Plastic rings, sold as flying rings, are an inexpensive toy, great for encouraging people of all ages, particularly the young, to expend energy, exercise the lungs and muscles and be in the fresh air. Sadly they are also a source of danger to seals and other marine life if not used with care. Light and aerodynamic they can easily be deflected by the breeze, or a throw can go wrong and, if this happens on the beach, the ring can land in the sea and not be recovered.
The campaign launching on 24th July is to raise awareness of the potential dangers to seals, aiming to encourage users to take more care about where they use them. Toys of a similar design for dogs can present the same threat.
The campaign was initiated by Jenny, a voluntary helper with RSPCA, with first-hand experience of feeding and nursing seals with these injuries. Seeing the horrendous wounds on increasing numbers of seals, Jenny realised that it was happening because the British public, known for their love of wildlife, were unaware of the cause. She decided to take action and got agreement from Friends of Horsey Seals to support and become involved in the campaign. Other wildlife organisations, including RSPCA, British Divers & Marine Life Rescue, and Marine and Wildlife Rescue are also giving their support.
A successful funding application to Sea-Changers paid for a painting of a young seal, by local artist, Lorraine Auton, as the campaign’s emblem, and for leaflets and posters to be designed and printed. A family donation paid for yellow hi-viz vests, emblazoned with the seal poster, to be purchased. The vests will be worn at distribution points by volunteers handing out publicity material.
Seals are inquisitive and the young learn to hunt by investigating their surroundings and the things they find there. The hole in the centre of a brightly coloured and attractive abandoned plastic ring is large enough for a young seal to push its head through. Once around its neck the seal cannot remove it and the ring becomes a restriction as the seal grows, getting in the way when it is hunting, and cutting into the blubbery flesh as growth continues. Open wounds may become infected and the restriction around the neck impedes swallowing. The seal’s fate, if it does not get help, is inevitably that it will die a slow and painful death.
Some of these seals have been rescued by teams of volunteers from FoHS and other local groups, trained by RSPCA. Their size and wariness makes seals difficult to capture, but as the afflicted animal becomes weak through hunger or infection, they are less able to move away when approached. Rescuers are equipped with nets, designed for the purpose, that trap the seal and prevent further struggling, allowing them to be lifted with a seal stretcher and transported to a wildlife centre where they can get help.
The RSPCA Wildlife Centre at East Winch has some of the best facilities and expertise in Britain for dealing with sick and injured seals. The centre has already been successful in nursing back to health a number of seals afflicted in this way and returning them to their natural environment. You might have seen some of the seal releases featured in media reports, the most recent ones locally being of a seal given the name of ‘Pinkafo’, after the pink ring that encircled its neck, and ‘Sir David’, affectionately named after Sir David Attenborough,
If you would like to help in any way, especially by distributing publicity materials, please get in touch: email@example.com, and we’ll put you in touch with Jenny, the co-ordinator.
NWT’s Ocean Commotion event, with Professor Ben Garrod, took place on 21st July 2019 at Cley Beach adjacent to the beach car park. The event brought together a number of groups and organisations with interest in wildlife and the environment, giving visitors opportunities to talk to the professionals and browse the information and goodies on their stands.
Friends of Horsey Seals information unit was on parade, with Teresa and Billy in attendance. The hosts, NWT, and organisations including Greenland Whaling Company, from Kings Lynn, Marine and Wildlife Rescue, Cley Harbour Community Group, Holkham Hall Estates, Norfolk Coast Partnership, and RSPB were all represented.
On a lovely day with occasional light cloud cover and a welcome gentle breeze we wondered were the crowds had gone but several other local events, including a street-food fest in Holt, were strong competition! Even so, visitors enjoyed a nice day and showed plenty of interest.
Jenny Hobson, co-ordinator of a flying rings danger to seals awareness campaign due to launch on Wednesday 24th July, was with us and able to meet people from some of the organisations that are supporting the campaign which is promoted by FoHS. It was useful to see that the campaign created plenty of interest among the visitors.
The sound of sea birds was joined by the harmonies of Blakeney Old Wild Rovers, a male singing group, that added a touch of nostalgia with entertaining sea songs. It was a lovely occasion and we were delighted to meet some very nice people. More of them would have been even better!
This is an annual event, so do look out for it in 2020.
For seal wardens. it’s always sad to come across a seal tangled with plastic waste, ropes, fishing net, and plastic discs. We refer to seals in this state as being necklaced, in other words, they have some unnatural object around their necks which is causing them a problem.
Strictures, however, are not confined to the neck and other man-made material can also get tangled in flippers, impeding normal swimming and reducing the animal’s ability to catch fish. When a seal comes across fish caught or held within a net, it sees them as a meal. Why wouldn’t it? Nylon filaments go unnoticed until they tighten around the neck, digging into the flesh as the seal pushes to get clear. The lucky ones manage to break free and escape with just a ‘necklace’. In other cases the entanglement might be too severe, or the filaments too strong, and drowning results.
Frisbees are a brilliant toy, getting children (and adults) running around in the fresh air, exercising muscles and developing hand and eye co-ordination. Young seals also learn through play with them. The difference being that they have no parental guidance to keep them safe during the game.
Grey seal pups can only keep warm and dry in the sea when they have shed their white, baby fur and their adult coat has grown. By then they are about six weeks old and they instinctively begin to explore and learn how to find and catch fish, crabs, and other food items. The hole in a frisbee is just another place to probe for prey, and, at that age, they are small enough to push their heads through. The frisbee gets lodged, held by the seal’s waterproof fur, and they cannot remove it with their flippers.
It’s not too much of a problem at first, but they grow quickly and the rigid plastic starts to dig into the neck, ultimately cutting into the flesh and restricting swallowing.
Without food the seal weakens and the open wound becomes susceptible to infection.
This was the case with the female, pictured below. After many sightings by seal wardens, and following up reports from the public, FoHS seal rescuers finally managed to trap the seal in December 2018 and transport her to RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre for treatment. She was given the hospital name of Pinkafo*, a reference to the pink frisbee.
On entry to East Winch, staff doubted that Pinkafo would survive, but after a few days of treatment she rallied and started to feed and her appetite increased as treatment continued. Even so, it took 5 months of care for the wound to close and Pinkafo to gain condition and be ready for release.
The release took place at Horsey Gap and is recorded in this video clip, and the pictures that follow, taken on the day by FoHS trustees and seal warden, Richard Edwards.
* Animals are named on entry for ease of matching treatment to the correct animal. Names are themed, and the theme at the time was horse breeds. (Pinkafo is a breed of draft horse developed in Hungary)
The wonderful vets, nursing staff and volunteers at RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre, near Kings Lynn, do amazing work with sick and injured animals and birds, measuring the success of what they do by the number of patients they are able to return to the wild.
When fit for release, care is taken to return the animals as nearly as possible to where they were found. Transporting seals can have its tricky moments, especially when they are large adults! That’s another story, but here’s a story in pictures, that you might like to share, of a recent release of 5 seals, now fit after treatment, that took place at Horsey in late March.
The event was filmed by an ITV cameraman, and featured on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ in an item with the programme’s vet, Dr Scott Miller, who helped at the release.
The five young seals, two greys and three common, were transported from East Winch in special stretchers, suspended in the back of an RSPCA vehicle.
Still in their stretchers, the seals were carried onto the beach, where they were released and made their way towards the sea. Hesitant at first, they entered the water and soon appeared to be enjoying their freedom, watched by their carers and others who came to see them off.
The seals needed very little time to adjust to their new environment and disperse into the North Sea.
A group of Friends of Horsey Seals (FoHS) volunteers trained in rescue techniques and seal handling, attend callouts to help pups and adult seals, throughout the year, often responding on behalf of RSPCA to calls from members of the public.
In winter it is generally grey seal pups that need help, but incidences of seals ensnared in fishing net or other plastic detritus occurs frequently and at any time. The team also attend callouts to a number of common seals (also called harbour seals). Their young are born in summer and, although more advanced at birth, and able to swim after just a few hours, they are less robust than grey seals and susceptible to infections, and are sometimes found in a poor state by holiday-makers and walkers on Norfolk’s beaches.
At East Winch all patients get the same degree of care, but looking after larger animals, like seals, is a lot more complex and time consuming to reach a successful conclusion, and requires special facilities and far more of the centre’s resources than, say an ailing hedgehog or pigeon.
An injured deer can recover in a grassy paddock, but seals need watery holding places where they can be examined and treated at the beginning of their stay, and bigger indoor pens with an exercise pool as treatment progresses. Not to mention expensive fish to eat, medication and possibly great quantities of salt used in some healing treatments.
When recovery is established, the next stage is to rebuild the animal’s size and strength, and they are moved into spacious outdoor enclosures where the pool is big enough to swim and build up strength, and where they can learn to find and catch fish.
Pups entering the sea as weaned youngsters about 6 weeks after birth would learn this instinctively. Pups that have been rescued and treated at rescue centres, however, have not had that experience, so get help from the centre staff to acquire those skills.
At East Winch a series of plastic crates and boxes have been fastened together to simulate an underwater environment where fish might lurk. Morsels of fish are hidden inside the contraption, which is lowered into the pool. The seals, attracted by the possibility of food, learn how to find and retrieve them, and go on to join older animals that ‘hunt’ fish that is thrown into their pool.
Young grey seals would naturally weigh 40-45 kilos at the start of their adult life. Release into the wild is only considered when those in care reach this weight and have the resources needed to survive.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at RSPCA East Winch, or helping with a donation or in other ways, you can read more about the work of the centre, and get contact details, from their website: