Britons Make Seal Pup Rescue a Part-time Passion
GWEEK, England A stocky British construction surveyor appears an unlikely savior for three plump bundles of white fur named Rush, Nettle, and Sweetpea.
But when Dave Jarvis took his family to see the seals at Britain's National Seal Sanctuary in the tiny Cornish village of Gweek, he discovered a passion for saving seal pups from savage seas and monitoring the world's biggest gray seal population.
"We used to come down as a family to visit the seal sanctuary, and there was one little fellow called Thunder that was in a bit of a state. He'd lost an eye, one of his flippers was ripped, and the wife got all sentimental," he said.
October through the end of November is the busy pupping season for Jarvis and other members of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, one of a number of groups who rescue pups separated from their mothers and bring them to the sanctuary in Cornwall on the southwest tip of Britain.
With the seal sanctuary at its hub, these organizations and some members of the public have also formed the Cornish Seal Monitoring and Observation Group (C-Smog) to better understand the fate of saved seals eventually released back into the wild.
Seal sanctuary marine biologist Glenn Boyle said tracking rehabilitated seals revealed the effectiveness of rescue and how well the seals survive a return to the wild.
"Feedback tells us where the animals have gone, and if the observation is of a sufficient duration, we also get an idea of how healthy that animal is," Boyle said.
Some C-Smog members do not have a wildlife conservation background, but training has prepared them to be the sanctuary's eyes and ears along the Cornish coast.
Since its creation, C-Smog and its network of people fielding calls from members of the public have improved the sanctuary's ability to save seals and track their progress after they are released back into the wild.
Before C-Smog, the only information on tagged and released seals came from corpses washed up on the beach. It didn't provide very conclusive or informative data, Boyle said.
Training and organization of C-Smog members has also provided the sanctuary with a means of rescuing seals without endangering the pups or the public, who sometimes attempt to rescue seals on their own.
Seals are powerful and sometimes aggressive toward humans, and Boyle said gray seal mothers would be reluctant to accept the return of a pup which smelled of humans.
"Last year we had a call from a very well meaning member of the public who called us after she had already picked the seal up and had it in her bath tub," he said.
C-Smog also produces leaflets and erects signs on beaches where the playful creatures are known to come onshore.
"It just shows what likeminded people can do together in order to improve not only the work that we do in the sanctuary but also the welfare of the animals in the wild," Boyle said.
However, not all seal experts agree that rescuing every seal in trouble is an entirely good thing.
Seal expert Stephen Westcott expert, who Jarvis credited as the inspiration for C-Smog, has praised the sanctuary's work but says there should be a debate about whether it should seek to rescue every seal in trouble.
Some Nordic countries have discussed not rescuing seals in order to allow their populations to fall below what have been described as unhealthy levels, he said.
"If seal pups are rescued, it may make us feel good, but it may not be good for the seal population. It's accepting death as part of natural life,"