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Stricken seal pup is rescued from plastic netting on Northumberland coast

The stricken seal pup.
The stricken seal pup.
  • Wildlife experts warn of the dangers that marine litter can pose

Wildlife campaigners are highlighting the dangers of coastal litter, after a stricken seal pup had to be rescued from a broken lobster pot.

The creature was found on Tuesday at Ross Back Sands, to the north of Bamburgh and part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Thankfully, the seal was cut free by Steve Dixon and Annie Iveson, voluntary Marine Mammal Medics for British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).

Netty, as she has been named, was taken to Alnwick vets Morris and Plumley, where her wound was cleaned and treated. The nylon rope of the netting had cut through the skin over her neck, but hadn’t yet started to cut into the deeper muscles thanks to the prompt rescue. She was fed and given antibiotics and was released back into the sea later in the day.

While it was a happy ending for Netty, wildlife experts are using it as an example of the dangers posed to wildlife from ghost fishing – what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned.

Jane Lancaster, a National Trust Ranger, said: “This is the sad reality of marine pollution and it is why beach cleans really do matter.

“I’ve worked on the Northumberland Coast as National Trust Ranger for eight years and never seen a lobster pot ghost net on a seal. I hope I never do again. Annie and Steve went the extra mile walking about three miles to find the seal. They worked together to keep the seal safe while cutting the net with Steve’s diving knife in the sea.

“The seal – weighing 20kg – was carried three miles back and then driven to Morris & Plumley, who treated the wounds.

“When Stuart Morris, from the vets, discharged the seal, she was released on the coast at moonlight ready for a life of freedom without the discarded lobster pot stopping her feeding.”

Steve said: “Netty seemed strong and eager to go back to sea and we optimistically assume that we have had a happy ending. But ghost fishing gear is a big problem globally and we have lots of broken and discarded pots, ropes and nets on the seabed along the Northumberland coast and Farne Islands.

“I dive both the coast and the islands several times per week during the dive season and have seen dead adult seals tangled in line on a couple of occasions. This is the first time I’ve seen a seal tangled in the remains of a lobster pot, however, and it just goes to highlight the importance of beach cleans and marine conservation.

“You’d be amazed at some of the items you can find dumped in our seas causing problems for our marine life.”

If you are concerned about a marine animal, call BDMLR on 01825 765546 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday) or 07787 433412 outside these hours, including bank holidays.