AN ADULT grey seal caught up in a creel rope off Shetland was at the centre of a dramatic rescue at the weekend.
On Sunday morning local fisherman Martin Garrick called out the animal welfare charity SSPCA when he found the female seal off the Holm of Melby near Sandness with a rope tied tightly several times around her neck.
SSPCA auxiliary Terresa Leask set off with Garrick in his small open boat to size up the situation, and realised they would need a bigger vessel.
Leask contacted Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary who helped her track down another local fisherman, Sean Williamson from West Burrafirth, who immediately offered to help with his creel boat Emeritus.
The animal welfare officer had meanwhile collected her wet suit and the entire team set off from the Bousta pontoon around 4pm.
The team reached the scene after half and hour, but it took another half an hour before they spotted the seal as it only surfaced briefly before diving again.
“The rope it was attached to was more than 20 feet long and it was strong enough to drag the creel along the seabed too, so it was impossible to know where it would come up next,” Jan Bevington, from the wildlife sanctuary, said.
Leask donned her wet suit and dived in to the sea to help with the search, but it took another half an hour before they managed to close in on the seal, with the help of Garrick who had come back out to help in his small boat.
Leask tried to grab the rope with a swan hook, Garrick used a grappling hook, but it was Williamson who managed to snag the rope with his grappling hook and haul the seal in to the side of the boat.
“She was much bigger than we had thought,” Bevington said. “She was terrified and panicking and really, really strong so we had to be extremely careful and ended up putting a towel over her head to protect us and calm her down.
“The rope was wrapped around her neck four or five times so it took a few goes to cut her free, but what a fantastic feeling it was to see her swim away.”
Leask thanked Garrick, Williamson and the wildlife sanctuary for helping her with the rescue.
“I went into the sea because I couldn’t see how else we were going to get to the seal,” she said. “It was all part of the job and ended up being a brilliant rescue.”
Williamson, who caught the seal and helped cut her free, added: “It was an impressive sight, but it was good to see the seal looking reasonably healthy and swimming off quite happily.”
Bevington added: “There are a lot hazards for ocean wildlife out there, so it’s great that there are caring people like Martin and Sean who were so willing to help.
“Without them, and Terresa’s courage, what a terrible death this seal would have suffered. Fortunately we got there before the rope had done any real harm.”
A longer version of this video can be seen on the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/HillswickWildlifeSanctuary?ref=hl