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Christmas gift of life as Wester Ross rescue mission frees badly entangled seal


By Hector MacKenzie

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A CHANCE visit to collect oysters for Christmas saved the life of a badly entangled Wester Ross seal.

Heartwarming footage of the harbour seal being freed by big-hearted rescuers has been shared hundreds of times and generated welcome festive cheer.

The drama unfolded on a beach north of Ullapool when Noel Hawkins and his girlfriend Janis Piggott headed to the beach to make the collection from an oyster farm as a favour to a pal busy in the run-up to Christmas.

The entangled seal was in a bad way and difficult to approach.
The entangled seal was in a bad way and difficult to approach.

The discovery of the seal – tightly caught on ropes tied to a mooring anchor – spurred the duo into action.

The encounter was lucky for two reasons: no one else was due out to the beach before new year and Mr Hawkins, as a member of British Divers Marine Live Rescue (BDMLR), has training in freeing entangled and beached sea creatures.

The seal had restricted movement and was “very aggressive”, posing a definite bite risk to its would-be rescuers.

A call around potential helpers found Matt Dawson, originally from Scoraig, who has experience with seals.

Coralling the writhing creature using planks, they were able to cut free rope double wound around its neck and causing serious breathing difficulties.

Noel Hawkins was delighted to be able to help free the entangled seal and watch it head back out to see.
Noel Hawkins was delighted to be able to help free the entangled seal and watch it head back out to see.

Mr Hawkins said: “We needed to take care not to cut into the blubber as we cut the rope, but managed to do so without injury and the seal initially continued to growl before disappearing into the sea without a thank you. If we had not been going for our Christmas oysters, the seal would not have been spotted and would have probably drowned.”

BDMLR have just secured funding from North Highland Initiative to offer subsidised training courses in Ullapool in spring 2022 to ensure the area has more medics available to help rescue seals, whales and dolphin in trouble. Visit www.bdmlr.org.uk for more details.

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