Mablethorpe Wildlife Rescue
Help our volunteers rescue more
animals like Piglet the baby seal
Mablethorpe Wildlife Rescue operates on the grounds of Mablethorpe Seal Sanctuary & Wildlife Centre tourist attraction. We also run a fund raising shop located in Mablethorpe town centre on the junction of High Street and George Street.
Over 1,000 seals have been treated here since 1974. Most have been returned to the wild after 3 or 4 months care. The fastest turn round was 10 minutes (he was perfectly healthy but sitting in the middle of a motorbike race track) and the longest was nearly 2 years. A few seals are too sick to be saved and around 2% have to be kept in captivity because we do not think they could survive if released. The seal pools were built so that these animals could have as stimulating an environment as possible. Donna, a grey seal, is our oldest having been here since 1983. At the time we still had much to learn and because we tried so hard to make sure they survived we unfortunately also made them too tame for release. Others have injuries that would mean they probably could not cope: Wryneck has a deformed spine and Billy, Nooky and Popeye are blind (these seals may well be occupying one of the pre-release pools at the entrance).
What species of seals are cared for? Grey (or Atlantic) seals and common (or harbour) seals are the usual species and for the first 24 years they were in fact the only ones. Since then we have looked after bearded, ringed and hooded seals – all normally living in Arctic waters.
All the birds here have either been given a permanent home or are awaiting release. You should be able to see some of the following: – The gannet’s striking white plumage, sharp beak and a 5-foot wingspan make it the most impressive of the seabirds brought to us. A recurring problem for young birds is getting tangled in netting that their parents have brought to the nest.
The members of the auk family – guillemots, razorbills, puffins and little auks used to be regular arrivals because of oil pollution. Tighter regulations seem to be reducing spillages but now they are finding it harder to find enough food. Starving chicks are frequent admissions, something that never happened 20 years ago. Over fishing by us combined with global warming forcing the fish into cooler waters are probably to blame.
Black-backed gulls on the other hand have been doing very well. They have learnt that our rubbish tips offer a year round supply of food but it also means they sometimes suffer from food poisoning. Our resident birds were involved in accidents requiring wing amputations but they have paired up and regularly hatch their own chicks – probably the first record of them breeding in Lincolnshire.
Seal & Wildlife Hospital
Mablethorpe Wildlife Rescue operates within the Seal Sanctuary & Wildlife Centre. The trustees are responsible for the running of the hospital, buying fish, paying for veterinary expenses and for the care of the young seals form admission until release back into the wild.
On arrival seal pups are usually given an antibiotic injection and a glucose based fluid by tube to help counter de-hydration. For the next few days they are kept quiet and warm but as soon as possible they are introduced to others of the same age, given access to a warm pool and encouraged to eat sprats or small herring. We have found that trying to mimic seal milk is not only difficult (it is at least 10 times as rich as the best Jersey cows) but also unnecessary given that the pups are naturally weaned within a few weeks of birth. The Harp Seal has taken this to the extreme by weaning 4 at days old!
Common seals make up about a third of the admissions in a normal year. They are usually born in June so these are the ones you are most likely to see if you visit in the summer. Most of them are young animals suffering from worms and mouth ulcerations. Their injuries can make them very difficult to look after because if the mouth is too badly damaged it then becomes impossible to get food or liquid into them without enormous distress.
Common seals suffered terribly from the Phocine Distemper Virus in 1988 and 2002 when a total of 40,000 seals died. Arctic seals may have introduced it into the North Sea population and when common seals congregated to breed the disease took hold. It was noticeable that there were more deaths in areas of the greatest pollution.
Grey seal pups tend to be more robust but then they have to be: they are born in winter, the mothers only suckle them for 2-3 weeks and right from birth they have to dodge the massive bulls competing in an attempt to impress the cows. Despite the problems grey seals have become one of the great conservation success stories. 100 years ago they were down to a few hundred animals. Now there are over 200,000 and half the world’s population live around our shores. In Lincolnshire they have been especially successful and only a few miles from here is the biggest breeding colony in England. 30 years ago we counted about a dozen pups; today well over a thousand are born there every year.
Grey seals and fishing nets. An increasing problem for grey seals is getting tangled up in netting. On one occasion, after looking at about 2000 seals we were able to release 7 that would otherwise have died. If our sample is representative then 400 seals around British coasts are likely to be caught up in netting at any one time.
The hospital and new seal recuperation building have a variety of pools that allow us to provide a seal with intensive care at first but then move it on to bigger pools and more competition as they get stronger. To get their share of fish they quickly learn to become faster in the water and are able to build up their muscles. This is essential training if they are to be fit enough for a life in the wild. We try and provide a range of foods including flat fish (which are the most important food for grey seals on the Lincolnshire coast), herring, sand eels, mackerel and sprats.
Release. On arrival the smallest seals may weigh less than 20lbs and it normally takes several months of being fed about 6lbs of fish a day to reach the release weight of at least 80lbs. No wonder our fish bill is about £1,000 a week! Ideally we wait for a calm sea just before low tide and carefully crate up two seals that have grown up together (after one such release, a pair were seen still together 2 weeks later).
Then it is a short drive to a quiet beach on a national nature reserve not far from the breeding colony. The Sea Mammal Research Unit supplies us with tags so that lessons can be learned if they are spotted again. Records have come back of sightings years after release from Yorkshire, Norfolk and even Calais.
The current global declines and extinctions of vast numbers of animal species mean that action must be taken to prevent further loss of our planet’s biodiversity. Fortunately, in the 21st century, zoos throughout the world have risen to the challenge and are becoming a powerful force for conservation. Zoos do not act in isolation, and instead are part of a global conservation network guided by the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategies and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) believes that the best place to conserve wildlife is in the wild and so encourages its members in their efforts to carry out and support field conservation work. Many of its members also partner conservation charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), that specialize in field based conservation activities both nationally and internationally.
Together with BIAZA, Mablethorpe Wildlife Rescue support over 500 field conservation projects contributing over £14 million per year. Members supply skills, staff and equipment for wildlife conservation, and essential materials for education and awareness programmes in developing countries. They also play an important role in conservation awareness-raising in the UK, support conservation campaigns and facilitate career development of young conservationists.
Much of our knowledge and expertise in management, reintroduction and translocation of these small, and often isolated, wild populations comes from the experience gained in managing zoo populations. The science of small population management has evolved through cooperative zoo breeding programmes and an increase in our knowledge of the health care and welfare of wild animals.
Conservation activities can generally be grouped under two main headings; in situ conservation refers to conservation work that is carried out in the animal’s natural habitat and ex situ conservation refers to work that is carried out of the animal’s home range, which usually consists of breeding animals in captivity.