The animal charity expects to care for more than 100 grey seals and seal pups at its National Wildlife Rescue Centre in the coming months.
Why do seals come ashore in winter?
Grey seals are the largest and most common seal species in the UK. They can be found around the coastlines of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are also known as Atlantic seals or horsehead seals.
Grey seals come ashore at this time of year to give birth and to moult their fur. They usually breed between September and December, depending on the location. The females give birth to a single pup, which has a thick white coat that protects it from the cold. The mother stays with the pup for about three weeks, nursing it with rich milk. During this time, she does not eat and loses up to a third of her body weight.
After the pup is weaned, the mother leaves it to fend for itself. The pup then sheds its white coat and grows a new grey one. It also starts to feed on fish and other marine animals. The adult males, which are much larger and have a distinctive long nose, also come ashore to mate with the females. They often fight with each other for access to the females, leaving scars and wounds on their bodies.
The seals then spend some time on land to moult their old fur and grow a new one. This process takes about six weeks and makes them more vulnerable to predators and disturbances. They need to conserve their energy and avoid stress during this period.
How can you tell if a seal needs help?
The Scottish SPCA advises the public to keep a safe distance from seals and never attempt to touch, carry or chase them back into the sea. This could cause stress and injury to the animals, as well as risk of bites or scratches to humans.
The charity says that most seals that are seen onshore are healthy and do not need help. They may be resting, moulting or waiting for their mothers to return. However, some signs that a seal may be in trouble are:
- Visible injuries, such as cuts, wounds, infections or entanglements
- Breathing difficulties, such as coughing, wheezing or gasping
- Weakness, lethargy or emaciation
- Abnormal behaviour, such as aggression, disorientation or lack of fear
- Presence of predators, such as dogs, foxes or birds of prey
If you see a seal that shows any of these signs, you should monitor it from a safe distance for a 24-hour period. If the condition does not improve or worsens, you should contact the Scottish SPCA helpline on 03000 999 999 for advice.
What does the Scottish SPCA do for seals?
The Scottish SPCA is Scotland’s leading animal welfare charity. It operates the National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross, Clackmannanshire, which is the only facility of its kind in Scotland. The centre cares for over 10,000 wild animals every year, including birds, mammals and reptiles.
The centre has a dedicated seal unit that can accommodate up to 50 seals at a time. The unit has indoor pools, outdoor pools and isolation pens for different stages of rehabilitation. The staff and volunteers provide round-the-clock care for the seals, feeding them with fish and medication, cleaning their wounds and monitoring their progress.
The centre aims to release the seals back into the wild as soon as they are fit and healthy. The release sites are chosen carefully based on the origin and behaviour of the seals. The centre also tags some of the seals with satellite trackers to monitor their movements and survival after release.
How can you support the Scottish SPCA?
The Scottish SPCA relies on donations from the public to fund its work. It costs over £15 million a year to run its services, including its wildlife rescue centre, animal rescue officers, animal helpline, education programme and rehoming centres.
You can support the charity by:
- Adopting an animal from one of its rehoming centres
- Becoming a member or a regular donor
- Leaving a legacy or a gift in your will
- Fundraising or volunteering for its events and campaigns
- Buying its merchandise or donating items
- Reporting any cases of animal cruelty or neglect
You can find out more about the charity and how to get involved on its website: www.scottishspca.org
What are the benefits of seals for Scotland?
Seals are not only important for biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also for tourism and culture. They attract visitors from around the world who want to see them in their natural habitat. They also inspire artists, writers and musicians who celebrate their beauty and intelligence.
Seals have been part of Scotland’s history and folklore for centuries. They have been associated with legends of selkies, mythical creatures that can transform from seals to humans and vice versa. They have also been revered as symbols of fertility, protection and wisdom.
Seals are part of Scotland’s natural heritage and deserve our respect and care. By being mindful of their needs and welfare, we can ensure that they continue to thrive and enrich our lives.