Leave seals alone and let nature take its course, scientific committee says

Animal welfare groups should ‘rescue’ fewer seals and instead ‘let nature take its course’, according to a government committee.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Seal Rehabilitation was set up to establish protocols for dealing with seals, after a rise in the number of animals being taken to rescue centres.

In its report, the committee says the primary rule should be to leave seals alone, adding that not all pups are abandoned or in trouble.

The report also called for special seal protection officers to assess which animals should be rescued and which left in the wild. The five seal rehabilitation centres in the Netherlands now treat between 500 and 1,000 animals a year, compared with just 20 in 1980.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of grey seals in Dutch waters since 1980 and a corresponding increase in the number of seal pups, known as huilers (howlers), being ‘rescued’.

Lone seal pups should only be taken into rehabilitation after a minimum observation period of 24 hours, allowing mother and pup sufficient opportunities to reunite, the report said.

The five Dutch seal rescue centres should also become more professional and agree a common protocol. They should also stop treating animals which are infected with the parasite lungworm, the report said.

In 1980 there were some 500 harbour seals in Dutch waters, but that has now risen to around 9,000. Grey seals were effectively absent from the Netherlands until 1980, but have made what the committee called ‘a remarkable recovery’ to number around 5,100 in 2016.