Like a whirlwind from the north, Suede breezed into our Somerset rehabilitation unit from a very distant Yorkshire. Boy, could he make some noise, vocally making his presence felt throughout the unit! I have no idea what he was saying but it was certainly making an impression with the other seals who were trying to peer over their cubicle doors. I sometimes wish I could understand and speak ‘seal’ as I could have had many hours of in-depth conversation as I cleaned out and fed these wonderful and very individual beauties in my care. Somehow, I don’t think we’d be discussing politics, pandemics or even who’d been nominated for recent Bafta’s but I’m sure we’d find something far more stimulating to talk about!
Suede entered the unit with another name, given to him after his rescue from a distant beach in Yorkshire. ‘Suede’ was picked from a list of material themed names and it suited him, tough and hard wearing. Perhaps his short life in Yorkshire had determined his character and personality.
After weighing and assessment by one of our incredible vets his rehab started. He had sustained the usual injuries, weight loss and poor health associated with seal pups rescued by RSPCA staff or British Divers Marine Life Rescue Medics. But Suede had one characteristic not usually seen in pups brought in…he had blue eyes! In true Elton John style ‘my baby’s got blue eyes’ Suede’s blue eyes are caused by a lack of Melanin, a chemical which determines skin, hair and eye colour. Although perfectly natural, you don’t often see such a blue hue, as seals eyes are a deep black colour. What he lacked in Melanin he made up for in making himself heard!
As with many pups in rehab, they have to be hand fed by staff. Perhaps by a delicious concoction (if you’re a seal) of fish soup made up of water and mackerel blended into a liquid and administered via a tube into their stomachs or by assist feeding a whole mackerel into their mouths. Both of these methods require human contact which although not ideal for a wild animal is necessary to ensure that a nutritious feed and medication is taken. These methods necessitate physically restraining a seal which is stressful for the seal and handler as seal bites are fairly common and not welcome!
Such human contact is not great for wild animals. Once a seal can feed for itself, it’s a huge step in the rehab process and one which is celebrated by staff as it’s a step in the right direction towards eventual release. Environmental enrichment where less handling and natural stimulation methods are used to prepare the seal for that ultimate goal…release. Suede could not quite get this self-feeding bit, and took a lot of creative feeding techniques to eat whole mackerel. I was amazed at the contortions staff got into to avoid physically restraining him. I recall standing over him ‘posting’ three whole mackerel into his mouth with minimal human contact.
It was like posting a parcel into a small post box from an up-side down position. I was glad there were no cameras about! Suede continued for some time until… I was sat at home one night when one of the RSPCA staff texts me saying ‘Suede has cracked it’ together with a smiley face and accompanying film. I watched with delight as Suede swam around his pool devouring mackerel head first in a typical sealy way…I was so pleased and proud of my little boy.
Suede will now move outside and form a multi-national group of seals from Cornwall, Wales, Dorset and Devon waiting for that eventual moment of release. Human contact outside of the rehabilitation process is not good for wild animals particularly seals as they are very sensitive. That is why we never encourage approaching, feeding or swimming with seals. Humanising wild animals can increase the opportunities of injuries as seals will naturally seek out free meals in harbours where pollution, nets and boats can cause significant harm.
Call it tough love but it’s crucial we leave seals well alone and enjoy them from afar. Please follow our top tips from our ‘Watching Seals Well’ leaflet.
As for Suede, I have a feeling that he’ll charm no end of ladies with those gorgeous blue eyes…good luck Suede!