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Shetland seal freed from deadly netting

The seal's wound is being inspected - Photo: Terresa Leask

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A YOUNG grey seal was spared an agonising death after it was cut free from monofilament netting on a remote Shetland beach on Tuesday.

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary received a call from local people who had seen the seal during a walk in Fethaland, at the far northern tip of Shetland’s mainland at the weekend.

After the first trip to find the seal had to be aborted because of the weather, local crofter David Murray took Jan and Pete Bevington from the sanctuary out to the isolated beauty spot along with local SSPCA inspectors Louise Sales and Terresa Leask.

“The message we received was that there was a seal caught in monofilament netting that was gasping for breath and didn’t look like it had long to live,” Jan Bevington said.

“But we knew from past experience that if you can cut marine mammals free of this deadly netting they can recover very quickly in the wild, so it was definitely worth trying to find it.”

The five folk headed out in Murray’s pick up and then walked the last stretch to the beach, which was a busy centre for the 19th century deep sea fishing and is now protected as a site of special scientific interest and an important historic monument.

“There were plenty of seals when we got there, but we could not see any that were injured or caught up in netting,” Bevington said.

“We spent a long time searching with binoculars before going onto the beach to avoid scaring it back into the sea where we wouldn’t be able to help it.

“But when we still couldn’t see anything we went down onto the beach to have a closer look.

“We walked the full length of the beach and still saw nothing, and were just about to give up when David Murray spotted the creature well-camouflaged by the rocks it was lying amongst.”

As soon as they found it they covered the frightened seal’s head with a blanket to protect them from getting bitten and within minutes had removed the netting.

“The seal had a deep gash of at least three inches right around its neck and was on its last legs. It was completely exhausted and quite emaciated, as it wouldn’t have been able to dive or feed.

“But as soon as we cut it free, the transformation was instant and it raced into the sea.

“Bringing it into captivity would have stressed such a wild creature even more, there is nothing better for it than freedom in the salty brine where it belongs.”

Monofilament netting has been banned for many years because it is so dangerous for wildlife, but it is still used by some and lots of pieces have been left floating in the sea.

“This stuff is deadly, it even kills large marine mammals on a regular basis. There really ought to be a global ban on its production, let alone its use,” Bevington said.