WATCH: Rescuers Free Seal Trapped By Fishing Line
A Scottish grey seal will live to swim another day after animal rescuers freed it from a lobster fishing line that threatened to choke it.
Alerted to the struggling seal pup that had become tangled in waters near Sandness, Shetland—an island off the northern coast of Scotland—rescuers from the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary rushed to the scene. Video taken from aboard the ship shows initial rescue efforts by a diver were unsuccessful.
Hooking the wire wrapped around the seal's neck with a grappling hook, divers were able to reel the seal close to the boat, where it seemingly dangled while rescuers attempted to cut it free.
Jan Bevington from the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary stated this wasn't the first seal they had seen get caught in fishing wire, nor the last. (The video was originally shot in 2015 and only recently published online.)
Dodging the seal's frantic thrashing and sharp teeth, rescuers struggled to cut the wire wrapped around its neck. Eventually rescuers cut the final cord tethering the seal to the boat, and it dropped into the water.
Bevington and her time cheered aboard the ship after the seal darted into the water. She claims they saw it pop up from the surface of the water several yards away, before it finally dove under and swam away.
Both gray seals and harbor seals can be found in Scottish waters. Over 26,000 can be found in the region's shores during breeding season.
In an emailed statement to National Geographic, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) rescue center manager Colin Seddon underscored the importance of calling professionals to handle a seal in distress.
"We are often contacted about seal pups that are healthy but have been abandoned by their mothers because someone has disturbed them," Seddon stated.
Leanna Matthews, a PhD student at Syracuse University studying pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses), agreed that seal rescues are best left to marine mammal rescue organizations.
In addition to the harm humans can cause to seals, the animals have powerful defense tactics of their own. The marine mammals regularly prey on hard-shelled crustaceans, meaning they possess a multitude of sharp teeth inside powerful jaws that can deliver a serious bite. They also carry diseases that can cause serious infections in people.
Matthews also offered theories as to how the seal could have gotten caught in the fishing equipment initially.
"It could have been very curious, especially as a pup, and just stumbled upon it. It also could have been going after a fish and gotten stuck that way," she offered.
Becoming bycatch is a serious problem for all marine mammals. The same traps that ensnare fish are also attractions for carnivorous mammals in search of prey.
"I've been doing this work for 30 years now," said Bevington. "I get called by fisherman and tourists regularly."
She added that, while they've been able to save some of the animals they're called to attend to, many are dead by the time they arrive or too badly injured to survive.
A study of seal bycatch in Irish waters conducted in November of last year found that over a 12-month period, tangle nets (mesh nets that act as a wall for fish) caught 124 grey seals and eight harbor seals. Falling prey to commercial fishing nets also endangers cetaceans and sea turtles in particular.
Nearly 160,000 seals can be found in U.K. waters, according to the SSPCA. The British government regulates the volume and method with which seals are killed. In the U.S., gray seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.