• Outdoors Outdoors

Volunteers heroically rescue seal constricted by garbage for years: 'The circumstances were perfect'

"Waiting for a rescue to be organized is hugely stressful."

"Waiting for a rescue to be organized is hugely stressful."

Photo Credit: iStock

The U.K.'s Seal Research Trust and the British Divers Marine Life Rescue lived up to their missions this January when they freed a seal named Commuter from a piece of plastic trash, the BBC reports. A plastic ring from a paint can had been stuck around Commuter's neck for more than six years.

Commuter first came onto the SRT's radar in September 2017, when volunteers began tracking him. He made many regular trips up and down the northern coast of Cornwall — hence his name — but the group didn't have an opening to trap him and remove the ring around his neck until now.

Seals may look cuddly, but they're also huge and powerful predators. An adult grey seal like Commuter can weigh around 440 pounds. Trapping him was a safety issue both for him and for BDMLR members, and it had to be carefully coordinated.

Unfortunately, for the last six years, Commuter has only made land on inaccessible beaches, or in areas where approaching him would be too difficult, the BBC reports. That is, until January, when he arrived on the Cornwall beach where BDMLR members found him.

"Waiting for a rescue to be organized is hugely stressful," Sue Sayer MBE, director of SRT, told the BBC. "Despite Andy's best efforts to speak to visitors and explain the situation's need for caution, people on the clifftop still managed to disturb the seals below on three occasions. Over the next couple of hours, a third of the seals stampeded into the sea to get away from the perceived threat."

But Commuter was one of those that stayed on the beach. "Luckily, Commuter remained sleeping, so the first opportunity to rescue him in six years was not lost," Sayer said. That gave the BDMLR time to get into position.

Dan Jarvis, BDMLR area coordinator, told the BBC: "The circumstances were perfect. It was low tide, meaning access was at its easiest for us with all the equipment we needed, including a cargo net, herd boards, and a stretcher."

Six medics approached the seal to surround him.

"After a standoff, we were able to wrap Commuter in the net to slow him down, then placed the stretcher on top to safely restrain him so his entanglement and injury could be assessed," said Jarvis.

In a joint press release, the SRT and BDMLR declared Commuter's injuries "not as deep as feared." The BBC reports that they were able to remove the trash and safely release Commuter into the ocean.

Sadly, Commuter is not the only marine animal to be affected by plastic trash in the ocean. Seals and many other animals are routinely injured because they get stuck in trash or mistakenly eat it.

You can help prevent such problems by eliminating plastic from your lifestyle where possible and voting for policy changes that curb plastic pollution.

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