A terrified seal has been cut free from a ‘floating death trap’ of discarded fishing net.
The young grey seal was spotted by a dog walker “completely wrapped up” in netting high up the shoreline at Wester Quarff, south-west of Lerwick in Shetland.
After a call to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary for help, one of the charity’s supporters Ryan Leith grabbed his tools and set out to rescue the animal.
Ryan, who works at the Lerwick Port Authority as a port controller, used a towel to keep the frightened seal’s head and teeth safely away from those who were trying to save it.
The tangle of fishing gear was swiftly removed by Ryan and others at the scene, and the youngster successfully flopped its way back to the water.
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary said it was a “very lucky selkie indeed”, as many seals who get entangled in marine litter die slow and painful deaths from starvation or drowning.
Abandoned fishing gear a ‘big problem’ in Shetland
Ryan said: “When I realised it wasn’t hurt badly, it was great to let it back into the wild.
“The people that found it had got rid of a lot of the net already, so it thankfully didn’t take us very long.
“The net took three of us to carry back up to the road, it was really heavy.
“I’m constantly cleaning up plastic and nets from the shore.
“Everyone tries their best to clean it up, the local fishermen have a scheme where they tow up discarded gear from the bottom and get it in skips.
“So everyone is trying to do their bit, but it really is a big problem.”
Increasing number of seals reported with entanglements around their throats
Pete Bevington, from the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, said this particular seal was fortunate to survive the ordeal with only a little bit of damage to the fur around its neck.
More and more seals are being reported to the charity with tangles of marine litter choking their necks.
In December, a mother seal with a pup was spotted on a Shetland beach with plastic wrapped painfully around her throat.
The wildlife charity described abandoned nets as “floating death traps”.
Pete said: “It’s becoming far worse as time goes on.
“We’re aware of several seals around Shetland that have netting around their necks which we can’t get to because they’re in the sea.
“This seal was very fortunate in that it landed very high up on the shore in high tide.
“Because it was such a large piece of netting, it hadn’t managed to make its way back to the sea.
“Most of the time when seals have entanglements around their neck you can’t approach them to help them, because when you do they just go into the sea.”
Last month, the Scottish Entanglement Alliance project published a report on entanglements in the Scottish creel fishing industry.
Of the incidents looked at, the research found that grey seals were the second-most frequently entangled marine species to be reported, and “in most of these cases the entanglement is rapidly fatal”.
How can I help, and what do I do if I spot marine life in trouble?
You can donate to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary to help the charity rehabilitate sick or injured animals like seals in Shetland here.
And if you spot an entangled seal or any other marine mammals in distress, you can call the British Divers Marine Life Rescue hotline on 01825 765546.