A New Zealand fur seal is discovered ‘washed up’ on the Anvil Beach sand. He is lying very still, his breathing almost imperceptible. His fur seems dried out, not sleek and wet like we are used to seeing. He has a wound on his shoulder, which looks old and healed. He doesn’t appear to see or hear the approaching people, then strains to lift his head and lets out a low growl, and lays his head back down. What do we do? Who do we call? How do we help him?
The Wildcare Helpline, (08) 9474 9055, https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/wildcare-helpline, is run by volunteers on behalf of the WA Parks and Wildlife Service. The wildlife volunteers answering your call will be able to put you in touch with your nearest registered wildlife rehabilitator, wherever you are in Western Australia. In the case of a seal in distress they may contact a Wildlife Officer to investigate. BUT – when should you call to report a seal in distress?
Parks and Wildlife also offer a Seal Wise Guide https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/marine/marine-wildlife/503-seal-wise which describes various scenarios where seals may be encountered on the beach, what is considered normal seal behaviour, and situations when a seal may need human help.
Seals naturally ‘haul out’ or come onto land to rest, moult and recuperate. A seal that is lying still on the beach does not need to be reported, even if it remains there for more than a day. Likewise, seal pups and older juvenile seals do not need to be ‘rescued’ – they are often left on the beach while the mother is hunting offshore, or have been sent out on their own. Seals that should be reported to the Wildcare Helpline include:
- an emaciated seal (ribs or hip bones showing)
- a seal with a large injury (boat propeller, shark bite)
- a seal that is entangled in rope, fishing line or fish hooks
- a seal with an obvious eye injury
- a seal in a busy location: boat ramp, road, etc
Humans and dogs can transmit diseases to seals. Do not attempt to pick up seal pups, and do not pour water on seals. The best practice is to keep your distance, keep dogs 50 metres away, report threatening unleashed dogs to the Ranger, and ring the Wildcare Helpline if appropriate. Then take a photo from a respectable distance, and consider how lucky you are to see a magnificent sea creature on the beach, one of its natural habitats.
Happy ending – ‘our’ seal swam off on Day 3.