Advice on seal strandings


Following recent seal strandings in the Yarmouth area which resulted in multiple 999 calls from well meaning members of the public, the Coastguard are advising on how best to deal with mammals.

If you find a live seal, watch it FROM A DISTANCE. Do not approach the animal.

Seals regularly haul out on our coasts - it is part of their normal behaviour. Therefore, finding a seal on the beach does not mean there is necessarily a problem. A healthy seal should be left well alone.

However, if there is a problem, there are a number of things coastal visitors may wish to know first:

• Abandoned? If you see a seal with a white, long-haired coat in the winter, or you see a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal.

• Thin? Signs of malnutrition include visible neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin.

• Sick? Signs of ill health include : coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and hunch along on their sides) cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time, a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep)

For any member of the public who may see a seal which appears to be abandoned (if mother does not return within 24 hours), thin or ill, rather than call the emergency services, please ring (for advice and assistance)

• BDMLR hotline : 01825 765546.
• RSPCA hotline : 0870 5555999

You will receive further advice over the phone. If there is a problem with the animal, there are some important things you can do to help:

1. Provide information. Give thehotline an accurate description of the seal, its exact location (including position on the beach), how long the seal has been observed and any signs of injury. If at all possible, stay on the beach to guide the rescue team to the animal. This can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.

2. Control disturbance. Stop other people and their animals from approaching the seal, because - if it is a seal pup that is still suckling, then approaching the pup could threaten the mother-pup bond and the pup may be abandoned. Seals will react if approached too closely and are capable of inflicting a nasty bite - even the smallest pup can cause serious injury and this is even more of a risk with adults.

3. Prevent small seals from being disturbed and forced into the sea. Stand between a pup and the sea and, if necessary, use a board or similar object to restrain it. Under no circumstances, attempt this with adult seals, as you could leave yourself open to injury. You should avoid handling a seal pup at all costs, for the same reason. Under no circumstances allow anybody to push the seal back in the sea. A pup still suckling is a poor swimmer and an older animal may be hauled out for good reason

Morning after pill

The morning after pill is given to women within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse. One pill is taken immediately, the second exactly 12 hours later. If conception has taken place, the pill will prevent the fertilised egg from nestling in the lining of the womb. The pill has some serious side-effects. Because it's a high dose of the female hormone progesterone, it causes nausea and vomiting. It also disrupts the menstrual cycle.

A number of considerations come into play when this pill is given over-the-counter. In the UK, it is only handed out from pharmacies. You can't buy it in a supermarket. The pharmacist is trained to ascertain whether it is appropriate for the woman asking for the pill to have it in the first place. I am unfamiliar with the US regulations.

As the pill is intended to stop the fertilised egg from developing further, it is argued that you are terminating a pregnancy, even if it's less than 24 hours old. There are people who are opposed to abortion, at any stage of pregnancy and who are therefore unhappy to see the availability of this pill widened.

Others will make the point that it will be seen as an excuse for having unprotected sex, not wearing a condom, not go on the anti-conceptive pill or use another method of contraception. Apart from the fact that this is an emergency measure, it also does nothing to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease.

I am broadly in favour of having the pill available without a prescription, using the regime that has been in place in the UK for a few years now. Accidents happen, worse than that, so does rape. Over and above that, it is argued that it should not be given to children. In the UK, there is a large problem with teenage pregnancies (under 16), and education should also be improved. There is a long way to go with this yet.

Salutary warning?

THE young daughter of a Californian woman embroiled in an internet love scandal wants her "mommy" to come home. Karen Anderson, 30, left her two-year-old toddler Amanda in the US a month ago to move to Perth and live with her schoolboy lover James Barry, 16. They met on the web. Friends and family of Ms Anderson said the romance was bizarre and she should put her young daughter first and return to the US. Laura Hinkle, a close friend of Ms Anderson's for a decade, was disgusted that her friend had pursued the WA teen and left her daughter. Ms Hinkle, who has two young sons, said she loved Ms Anderson dearly but could not condone her actions. "I would like to plead with Karen to just come home - be with your daughter,'' Ms Hinkle, 30, said. "No person could ever love you the way your child does. Amanda knows that her mommy is gone and she misses Karen desperately and wants her to come home. "I love Karen to death . . . she has a great heart, but there has got to be something wrong with her to do this.'' Ms Hinkle, whose emails begging Ms Anderson to return to her child have gone answered, said she is also concerned about James's welfare. She said her friend was stripping him of his "teenage innocence''. "This whole `love' thing with James will pass and, for his parents' sake, she needs to be the adult and let this go, before his youth is completely gone,'' she said. "She has been around the block way too many times and he hasn't even made it halfway yet. "I don't care how `in love' he thinks he is, he's only 16. She is taking this boy's youth away from him. "If some 30-year-old woman wanted to be with my little boy, I would be out for blood. I really feel for his mother.'' Friends of Ms Anderson, who worked as a dancer before she became pregnant and who was seven years younger than James's mother Sue, confirmed that her relationship with James was not her first internet love affair. She had a relationship with a man in Las Vegas who she had met on the web, but later dumped. Ms Anderson, who last week told The Sunday Times she was planning to marry James, is still legally married to Colin Anderson, the father of Amanda. The couple married when she was 21, but separated about two years ago. Mr Anderson has been caring for their daughter since Ms Anderson left for Australia four weeks ago. A family member said Mr Anderson, 37, did not want to comment on the affair because he did not want to anger his estranged wife or lose his beloved daughter. On his MySpace website, Mr Anderson said his daughter was his "pride and joy''. Ms Anderson plans to leave Australia at the end of October if she cannot get a working visa. In the meantime, she would miss her daughter's third birthday in two weeks' time. Ms Anderson has applied for a working visa so she can stay with her young lover and work as a hairdresser in WA. If it is not granted, she would have to leave the country before her holiday visa expires on October 30. One of Ms Anderson's relatives, who did not want to be named, said the family was worried about her plans to bring Amanda to Australia permanently. "This really is a no-win situation for all parties, except Karen. It is selfish and not the actions of a mature mother,'' he said. "We don't want to see Amanda move all the way across the world, based on a relationship that is five months old and is probably going to implode. "I see young James as a typical teenager - horny and wanting to know what it's like to play grown-up. "It's a lot different when you're taking care of a child that isn't yours, knowing that the person you are with has had numerous relationships and you've had just the one and that's all you're ever going to have. "I would compare Karen to a drug. James is experimenting and, hopefully, he won't like what happens after the high wears off.'' He said the internet had taken control of Ms Anderson's life over the past year. "She would be playing stupid games all through the night and then sleep all day. Where does a child fit into this?,'' he said. "We just hope that this has a good resolution.'' And what do I find on the Australian news web page featuring this sad story?
Yes, you're seeing that correctly. An advertisement for on-line dating. Eughhh.


Betty, in her journal My Day My Interests describes the frantic interest that can be generated by a rare bird; in her case, a Western Reef Heron over in New Hampshire. The majority of people that come after rare birds are referred to as twitchers in the UK. Here in the Western Isles, we are right on the migratory routes for birds travelling south in autumn out of Iceland and Greenland towards Africa, and in reverse direction in spring.

We also have birds that get blown across the Atlantic in the stormy season, autumn and winter. If it's really unusual, we get them by the planeload. I am serious: groups of amateur or professional ornithologists charter a plane between themselves, drop everything even if it's 4 in the morning, to hare off to a distant corner of the land to see that particular bird.

Now, I did mention the word ornithologist. This is someone that knows all there is to know about birds. Twitchers are, with all respect, people who want to tick off a list of "must have seen" birds and are prepared to go to the length described above.

Earlier in the year, though, bird watching took a rather more tragic turn with the discovery of avian flu in Western Europe. Have not heard much more about it since the spring, but back in March a swan was found dead in a harbour in Eastern Scotland. A government spokesman described what happened to the unfortunate creature as follows:

"This swan was flying across the North Sea when it began to feel crap. As it neared the Scottish coast it was feeling worse and worse, and when it finally reached Scotland it died pretty soon afterwards."
Right. We were concerned about bird flu, because it could mutate into a virus that is contagious to humans. Therefore, if you start to feel crap, consult a doctor immediately, as you may be about to die. OK, I'm having a laugh here. It is hardly scientific to describe symptoms as above. Fortunately, that panic seems to have died down, and I have not heard anything about birdflu for months now.


I think I have blogged about this subject before, earlier in the year. I feel very strongly about tolerance in society, particularly towards what is referred to ethnic minorities.

I should start to say that I abhor discrimination of any kind. Both negative and positive discrimination. Negative discrimination means that people are deprived of certain rights or things because of the colour of their skin, their culture, their ethnic provenance, sexuality, you name it. Positive discrimination means that people are given preferential treatment precisely because of a characteristic.

We all came into the world with nothing, and we're all going to leave it with nothing. Underneath the skin, we're all the same, more or less. It is therefore unacceptable to discriminate. If people are to be judged, it should be on merit. Not on the colour of their skin. Their sexuality. The fact that they are from any certain country - or not.
I feel so strongly about this, because of what happened in the 1930s and early 1940s in Europe. Six million people were killed because they professed to be Jews. Initially, their lives were made impossible, then they were segregated into ghettos and finally carted off to concentration camps to be murdered on an industrial scale.

In recent years, large numbers of people have migrated to Western Europe and other so-called western countries, in search of affluence. Others came because their life was not safe in their home country. Since 2004, thousands of people have come to the UK from (e.g.) Poland to work. 97% of those people hold down a full time job.
Complaints are often heard that those people are taken jobs from indigenous people. I have seen at first hand a situation that the jobs were not applied for by local people, and that Eastern European workers had to be drafted in to do the job. I do think there is a problem if people come to Europe just to syphon off benefits and not work.

Since the horrendous events of 9/11, which we will be commemorating in 15 days' time, a backlash against people of the Muslim faith has occurred. A few weeks ago, a major security scare in the UK led to a strong tightening of security at airports. People were picked out for extra checks, purely on account of the fact that they looked Middle Eastern. The word "profiling" was introduced, to indicate that only certain suspect segments of society would be targeted for extra checks. Methinks that any terrorist organisation who grows wise to the criteria, will look for its recruits outside any such groups, although that might be a little complicated. However, the events of 9/11 and 7/7 have shown that it only takes a handful of brainwashed idiots to commit mass murder.

Tolerance to all sections of society is particularly important at a time like this, when one group is being singled out. This could have precisely the opposite effect of driving those groups into the arms of terrorists. It should be about dialogue, mutual engagement and respect, listening to and addressing problems that exist. Only in such an environment can extremists be defeated.

Concerns are being voiced that expressions of national pride are being suppressed, for fear of offending those that come from other faiths and cultures. Those concerns are being used to alienate minorities, implicitly accusing them of diluting national symbols.
Anyone who has had a glance at biology knows that inbreeding leads to a weakening of a species and of a society. An infusion of other cultures leads to a broadening of minds - as long as those minds are open to embrace something else.

Outdoor casualties - August 2006

The Coastguard helicopter based at Stornoway was put through its paces this weekend, with two rescue missions on the one day. First, a lady had to be airlifted from the Quiraing in northern Skye [50 miles south of Stornoway] after she had fallen 100 ft / 30 m and had sustained severe head injuries. The Quiraing is a series of large rockformations, formed by a layer of hard rock sliding off a softer layer further down. Over many thousands of years, this has left a crazy landscape of pinnacles of rock, which are a rock scrambler's or climber's paradise. You can also traverse it on foot, which I've done myself in October 2004. You need sure footing and a good deal of caution. This accident happened in a formation called The Prison (the derivation of the name is unknown), infamous for just this sort of accidents. The casualty was transferred to hospital in Broadford, 40 miles to the south.

Below picture shows The Prison - it is copyright Steven Russell

The second incident involved an elderly walker in the Lochaber district of mainland Scotland. He was travelling on foot from Lochailort towards Arisaig on the coast when he became unwell. The helicopter also airlifted him to hospital in Broadford, Isle of Skye, which is geographically speaking closest to the site of the incident.

Toilet papering

I read in Linda's blog about the tradition of toilet-papering a house in the States. That's relatively harmless, but of course as she points out, on a rainy day it can turn into a sodden mess.

I can tell that in continental Europe, anyone getting married is fair game too. Filling the nuptual bedroom with balloons is a nice one. Another one does cause quite a mess.

It involves placing a can of shaving foam in the freezer at -18C / 0 F overnight. For the ladies, shaving foam comes as a liquid under high pressure in a canister. The next morning, the happy couple toddle off to church. Meanwhile, the evil culprit peels the can off the cylinder of frozen foam and places said cylinder in the middle of the bedroom. By the time the wedding and the reception are over, it'll be well after midnight. The shaving foam will have filled the bedroom wall-to-wall with foam after it expands upon thawing.

I do not accept responsibility for the consequences of people following this information. Not all types of shaving foam are suitable, and serious injury and damage can result from puncturing an aerosol can.