News / Seal saved from deadly netting

The grey seal recovering from its ordeal at Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary. Pic. Shetland News

A GREY seal is recovering at a Shetland wildlife sanctuary after being freed from illegal fishing net in which it had been ensnared for at least six weeks.

Two wardens on the national nature reserve on Noss, off Shetland’s east coast, first spotted the seal tangled in a roll of monofilament net as it lay on rocks in mid June.

A week later the wardens Katherine Snell and Ruth McKee spotted her again on a beach, but the tide was too high to catch her.

Then on Saturday Snell spotted her on a beach at Voe o da Mels on the south west of the tiny, uninhabited island, and with McKee’s help she brought her to the shore base to remove the netting.

“It was like a strait jacket because it was wrapped around her front and tail flippers, but her neck was really bad because it had dug in really deep and really tight and it was tangled around her teeth and her mouth,” McKee said.


Jan Bevington from Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary drove to the isle of Bressay and was taken by a small inflatable to the island, where she helped remove what was left.

“Katherine and Ruth had cut away some of the netting on the body area, but the worst bit had cut very deeply into the neck,” she said.

“We brought it back to the sanctuary. She’s completely exhausted. She must have swum into the netting when she was a pup and had it on for a long time for it to have done that much damage.”

The seal will stay in the sanctuary to build up her strength. “She needs a few days to recover from the injuries and the pain, and we’re feeding her up because she is very underweight. She’s already eating us out of house and home, fish-wise”

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Bevington said it was the second seal caught in monofilament net that had been brought to the sanctuary, after one was found on a beach in the isle of Unst in February.

Monofilament net is banned from use in Scottish coastal waters because it is so fine that marine creatures cannot see it before they become entangled.

“This kind of netting shouldn’t even be out there, but lots of us know it’s being used and can’t do anything about it.

“It’s a situation where unless we find them in this condition they suffer a very long, slow, agonising death and I would wish that upon no creature.”

The seal rescue came a few days after eight common seal pup corpses were washed up on the Sands of Sound beach south of Lerwick, their cause of death unknown.


Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is currently caring for two common seal pups found around midsummer.

Bevington said they were both “pretty poor little pups” that were only just starting to thrive after six weeks in her care.

“One of them is premature, and that is becoming a regular occurrence, yet again a reminder that the common seals are not in a good way.

“The sooner the government brings back the closed season for common seals the better.

“Their numbers have halved in the last ten years. These are not migratory creatures, and if they are not protected once they are gone they are gone.”

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