Around 6pm on Easter Monday, Friends of Horsey Seals rescue team received a call from a member of the public asking for help for a young seal that had got stuck in rocks at Waxham.
Sally and Julie live closest and were first to respond, finding the seal well and truly jammed in the rocks of a breakwater on Waxham beach. Spaces between these rocks are usually filled with sand, but tides and wind had stripped it away, leaving gaps and crevices between the granite rocks.
The caller, on holiday with his family, had kindly awaited their arrival. It transpired the family had startled the seal as they prepared to leave the beach, causing it to bolt and hide in a hole among the rocks. Stuck fast in the confined space, the seal, front flippers pinioned, could not release itself. The evening was advancing, and so was the tide.
To get close enough to assess the problem, Sally had to lower herself 5-feet into a narrow space between the sea wall and the rocks. The young grey seal, estimated at 40kgs, appeared to be one of the pups born late in the recent breeding season. It was feisty, hissing and growling, not wanting a human to get close and more concerned about Sally than the possible bad outcome if the tide arrived before she could free it.
Carl, who called in the emergency, helped, using his phone to light the confined space where the seal was lodged, and Sally, sometimes having to balance on one leg because there wasn’t room for the second, tried every way possible to loop an ‘animal grabber’ – the type of equipment used in dog rescues – over the seal’s head. If she could work the loop over its flippers and get leverage on the youngster she hoped to pull it out. Time and again her efforts failed.
With the tide rising, Sally and Julie knew they needed help if there was to be a good outcome from this difficult situation. They put in an SOS call to others in the team. Rescuers Billy and Russ quickly arrived on scene to help, but the awkwardness of the tight space left too small a gap for either of them to help. So it was up to Sally. The tide was getting closer and the light fading.
Finally, with Sally in-between the rocks with the seal, the others used a closed stretcher and the rescue pole to get the seal into position, hoping to lift it upwards. Wearing special rescue gloves that gave some protection from bites, and with Sally pushing from below, the rest of the team hauled the seal out.
After a 3-hour struggle, coated in sand showered down on them by spectators on the steps and dunes above, and soaked with sea spray and the rainstorm that began as the release neared its conclusion, it was the exhausted rescue team that were the only casualties, other than a bent rescue pole.
It was a great team effort that genuinely saved the seal from drowning. Amazingly, after such an experience, the seal went off into the sea with no visual sign of harm from the manoeuvring and tugging required to get it to safety.