Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary is urging the public not to move or come close to seal pups they find on the beach.
The sanctuary, which released eight common seals back into the wild yesterday, is currently housing a number of seals that may have been fine had they not been moved by well-meaning beach-goers.
Pups taken in by the sanctuary for rehabilitation are moved to the Sea Life team’s seal rescue centre and kept in individual pens for a thorough medical examination, with checks including feeling for broken bones, listening for breathing problems, observing hydration status, among more.
Expert at Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary, Natalie Emmerson, said: “It’s really important not to touch seal pups on the beach, even if they appear to be abandoned. This is because seal mums often leave their young on the beach while they go hunting.
“We’ve been called to rescue seals several times where a pup looks perfectly healthy, but we’ve had to take it into the sanctuary because well-meaning members of the public have moved it in an effort to make it more comfortable.
“As soon as a human smell is transferred to the pup, we know the mother will definitely abandon it, because she won’t recognise it as her own, so we have to take it in and teach it how to fend for itself in the wild.”
The pups are usually reared on a special blend of fish soup, packed with nutrients, to aid recovery.
When they are able to stomach whole fish, they graduate to the sanctuary’s ‘learner’ pool where they are taught social skills and how to compete for their food as they would in the wild.
Ms Emmerson added: “We really appreciate any calls we receive about seal pups and a quick conversation will allow our experts to give advice.
“Healthy seal pups are a nice rugby ball shape for example, so if you can see their necks, they may be malnourished and in need of our help. We can tell a lot from observing the seal about whether it is in distress or not.”
When the seals are able to interact successfully with pups their own age, they are moved to the outdoor seal enclosure to learn how to socialise with adult seals.
Once they have reached a target weight of 25 kilogrammes and the Sea Life team are happy with their development, they can be released back into the wild.
“It’s a lengthy process that usually takes around three months, but very rewarding. We would really encourage local people who visit the coast a lot to come and see the pups and learn about them, so they will know what to do if they see one on the beach and what happens if they need rescuing,” said Ms Emmerson.
The sanctuary urges anyone who finds a seal pup on its own on the beach to monitor it from a distance and call the sanctuary on 01485 533576.