A grey seal cub has been delivered back to its home off the Irish coast on a fishing vessel after being found alone and badly injured on a northern Spanish beach and receiving over 100 days of treatment.
The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) was found stranded on a beach in Barizo in the municipality of Malpica in the north-western Spanish province of A Coruna in Galicia on 28th November 2020.
Alfredo Lopez, a biologist of the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals (CEMMA) told Metropolitan Press in an exclusive interview that they left it alone at first in case it was only resting.
He explained that stranded seals are not captured straight away as “they sometimes reach the shore to rest and then go back”, but this case was different, as Pabbar, as the cub was called, did not take advantage of the tide to go back to sea.
Vets checked the animal and it was confirmed that it was badly injured. The cause of the injuries is unclear, but Lopez said seals often move from their natural habitat and encounter many threats such as sharks and other marine predators.
Meanwhile, on land, they are often attacked by dogs or other seals fighting for territory.
Pabbar was taken to CEMMA’s facilities in the Galician municipality of Nigran for treatment.
Lopez told Real Press: “It had a serious infection in the back part of its body which spread to the rest of the body in days.
“The seal was also suffering from malnutrition and only weighed 18 kilogrammes when the normal weight for a young animal like this should be around 30 kilogrammes.
“It was also suffering with paralysis in the back part of its body.”
Lopez added that “it almost died” because it would not eat and vomited all the time, but the team “managed to help it and treat the infection, but the recovery process took a long time and a heating system was needed to keep it warm during the cold temperatures this time of year”.
On 21st January, Pabbar was released from the centre and moved to another centre with outdoors pools in what was called the second phase of its recovery.
This phase helped it to recover skills such as swimming, hunting, and diving.
Despite the animal gaining weight until it reached 30 kilogrammes, vets decided to keep it longer as it still had injuries on its back flippers.
After 100 days, the seal was finally ready to return to the sea on 6th March, about 150 miles from the Irish coast, where it was taken in a fishing boat and where there is a colony of grey seals from which the experts think it originally came.
Lopez explained that Pabbar was not released off the Spanish coast because their migration in the region is about to end so it was better to send it straight home.
Grey seals commonly leave their home when the colony gets too big and individuals start fighting for food with the youngest often being the first to move away.
Lopez explained that “the pressure is too big and they cannot compete with bigger seals in the group so they swim south to find food and a resting place until they are big enough to return home.”
These seals are seen off the Galician coast between November and March and it is recommended not to bother them if they are spotted resting on a beach.
This year, the number of seals arriving on the Spanish coast is in keeping with the annual average. In 2014, 40 seals were reported along Spain’s coastlines.