What’s faster, a seal or a Shannon-class lifeboat?
While our rescuers and volunteer teams are best known for reaching out to rescue people, they sometimes also help animals, from dogs and cats to whales and seals.
This summer alone, our rescuers have had to deal with several seal-related rescues. In June, Botany Bay rescuers rescued a baby seal and handed it over to British Divers Marine Life Rescue for care. The following month, rescuers at Sea Palling had to retrieve Rosa the dog after she swam out to sea to get a closer look at the local seals. At Harwich, crew members were called in to assist a seal-watching tour boat that had run aground with 30 people on board.
And in April, Hartlepool RNLI was joined for a training exercise by a baby seal, which they named Snowy, who lifted himself out of the water and began to sunbathe near the station. Mark Barker, volunteer crew member, said: “The baby seal was just laying there watching us get the boat ready for exercise and it was still there when we came back later in the morning. We kept our distance and let the puppy rest and enjoy the sun before he returned to the sea ”.
13 fascinating facts about seals
Did you know that there are only two types of seals that are commonly found in our waters? The gray seal and the harbor seal. Globally, the gray seal is very rare – half of its population living in British and Irish waters.
Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, have even more fascinating facts to share about the gray seal.
- Gray seals use 43 or 44 pairs of whiskers (called vibrissae), two to six pairs of eyebrows, and two rhinal vibrissae (on their noses) to find their food.
- Each mustache has 1,500 nerve endings – our fingers only have 2,500 in total!
- The resting heart rate of a gray seal is 120 beats per minute. When their head goes underwater, it only drops 4 beats per minute.
- With maximum swimming speeds of about 25 km / h, gray seals can swim 100 km per day. The RNLI Shannon-class lifeboat travels at 46 km / h, which is almost twice as fast. Although the seals are much faster than Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, who swims 7.6 km / h.
- Seals have 10 times more red blood cells than humans to store oxygen when they dive.
- A baby gray seal was known to swim 1000km while visiting Wales, Ireland, France and England, diving regularly to 120m, in just 8 weeks!
- Moms feed their puppies for only 3 weeks. During this time, the puppies grow from 10 kg to 40 kg, gaining around 10 kg per week.
- It can be a criminal Offence disturb a seal.
- Seals sleep vertically (upright) in the sea. After a few breaths on the surface, they automatically begin to sink. When carbon dioxide builds up in their blood, a rear fin reflex contracts – this brings them back to the surface to breathe without waking up.
- Seals are distantly related to otters and bears and are part of the order carnivores.
- Seals have amphibious vision – a vertically slit pupil and a horizontally flattened cornea, which means they can concentrate in both water and air! A tapetum lucidum (layer of tissue) behind the retina reflects light back into the eye, allowing seals to see in very low light levels.
- Seals have two layers of fur – long guard hairs with softer, denser hairs underneath.
- Once a year they have a catastrophic moult, replacing their entire fur coat. During this 3 week period, a lot of their energy is devoted to growing new fur, so they are often tired and cranky.
Mythhunter: if a seal is looking at us, it’s because it’s curious
If a seal is looking at us (when on land or in water) it is aware of our presence and its fight or flight response has been activated. Stay calm and step back to prevent them from moving away.
How can we protect the seals?
Seals come ashore to give birth, moult and rest. Gray and common nursing puppies only have 3 weeks to reach the necessary body fat level before their mother leaves. During this time, they are often left alone while their mother feeds. If they are disturbed or in distress, they may move to a new location, putting them at risk of starvation.
Seals are particularly sensitive to dogs, even dogs on a leash. Earlier this year, a 10-month-old baby seal named Freddie Mercury, who was lounging along the Thames, had to be shot after being bitten by a dog that had been released. Seals are surprisingly fast on land and can bite if they feel threatened. Frightened seals can rush over, which can injure both adults and pups. When one or two heads look up, you’re too close.
At sea, seals can be scared off by kayaks and paddleboards because their shape reflects that of a predator and, like predators, they are silent.
Our rescuers will always strive to save lives at sea, whether you are a human, a four-legged friend or, in fact, a seal. Help them be there for the next rescue by donating to the RNLI.