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: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll put you in touch with Jenny, the co-ordinator.