Two grey seal pups believed to be from coastal colonies in the north Atlantic have been rescued from a Spanish beach after being found exhausted and dehydrated.
The videos show the two named called Rube and Pabbar having their first meal and their first bath after their long, 1,500-mile (2400-kilometre) trip. One of the experts caring for them, Dr Alfredo Lopez, told Real Press in an exclusive interview that one of the pair, Rube, “is one of the smallest seals we have ever seen”.
The grey seal pups (Halichoerus grypus) are being carefully looked after by veterinary experts at facilities belonging to the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals in Nigran, in the north-western Spanish region of Galicia.
They are the first two grey seals to have been found stranded on the beach this season, somewhat earlier than usual.
They are believed to be from the northern coast colonies, especially from Ireland or even Scotland, according to Dr Lopez, a biologist at the centre.
He said: “After the seals are born, there is a lot of pressure in the colonies, as pups are born between September and November, and the last ones do not have enough room, so they are forced to move to other locations.”
According to the biologist, some seals have been seen in the Azores islands or even in Cadiz bay (southern Spain), but some of them also beach themselves on the Galician coast.
The biologist clarified that these movements are not migratory patterns, but rather those of juveniles seeking to spread their wings. He added: “When they find the right place to feed, they stay until they can go back to where they were born.”
He said that while seals commonly travel in groups, the groups are rather loose and individualistic, as young seal pups, at that point in their lives “cannot stand each other”.
This is why it is not all that unusual for them to be spotted alone on a beach, exhausted and having lost a lot of weight, as they have often travelled for over a week, or in the case of these new arrivals, probably even longer.
The expert said: “When they arrive in Galicia, they might have been travelling for a week or even 15 days, they came here directly, relying on the fat they have accumulated from breastfeeding and they lose a lot of weight and fat, they feel cold, and then they have to leave the water, and that is when things get complicated, as pneumonia is very common among them, as well as dehydration”.
This is also when the seals typically look for food. Some of them manage to go back to the sea and find more food, but others are in a worse health condition, and need help.
This was the situation in which the experts found the grey seal pups. The first one, who has been named ‘Rube’ by the vets, was seen for the first time on the beach of Vilarrube, in Valdovino, in the Galicia region, on 15th November.
Dr Lopez said: “Rube is one of the smallest seals we have ever seen, measuring only 85 centimetres (33.5 inches) and weighing 11 kilogrammes (24.2 lbs), which means he has lost a lot of weight, as when they separate from their mum, they commonly weigh 20 kilogrammes (44 lbs).”
The pup had a nasty injury on its side and according to Dr Lopez, he might have been attacked on land by an animal such as a dog.
At first, Rube was left on the beach, as the vets commonly give the seals a chance to go back into the sea by themselves, but the young seal pup just kept looking at them.
The day after, the seal had gone, but two days later, they came across it again, with Dr Lopez explaining: “He went into a fishing line with hooks and got stuck with a hook in his mouth.”
Fortunately, the hook had only become stuck in its mouth and the young seal was able to reach the surface to breathe, but it remained trapped on the fishing line with the hooks until the fishermen found it.
The injured seal pup was taken to the centre and was treated by experts and vets. Dr Lopez said: “His injuries are not the problem because they are healing well, and the rest of the things are being sorted, as he is gaining weight and keeps eating, but he is still in the first phase of the recovery process”.
The other grey seal pup, called Pabbar, was found on the beach of Barizo, in Malpica, also in the Galicia region, in the last weekend of November.
He is male, around 1 metre (3.2 feet) long and he weighs 18 kilogrammes (40 lbs), but “he had mobility problems in the paws, we first thought it was a kind of trauma, the kind that happens when the animals are smashed against the rocks near the shoreline, but it turned out to be a big infection that is affecting its articulations and is expanding to the rest of the body”.
Pabbar was also suffering from a fever and was treated with antibiotics, among other things.
“He is currently much better, but still in a critical condition, although he is eating well”.
Both seal pups are still in the first phase of treatment.
Once they have recovered, they will be released into international waters near the area of their original colonies, so near Ireland or Scotland.
Dr Lopez said: “They will be released alone”, adding that the reason they will be released into those waters is because “they are not meant to be here” and they will be strong enough to fight the competition in the colonies for food.
According to Dr Lopez, in a normal year, around 15 grey seals end up stranded on the Galician coast, and not all of them survive.
In fact, in recent days they also recovered another grey seal in the area, but it was already dead.