Seal Freed From Plastic Hoop Stuck Around Its Neck For Over 2 Years

May 2, 2021
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Plastic waste in the ocean is no secret (remember the rubber ducks?), and creatures big and small are suffering as a result of this hardy material failing to break down even after decades of exposure to the elements. Things get all the more complicated when this waste is just the right shape for wrapping around wildlife.

One such animal was thankfully rescued from what could’ve proven to be a fatal snagging by a circular hoop that became stuck around a seal’s neck. Named Mrs Vicar for her white collar, the seal had been snapped by a photographer in the UK in its sticky situation but it wasn’t until recently – two and half years after the seal was first spotted – that rescue workers were finally able to cut away the offending rubbish.

The rigid 2.5-centimeter-thick (1 inch) piece of white plastic is thought to have come from some kind of piping. Seals flippers are limited in their dexterity and animals in a predicament like Mrs Vicar’s are often unable to free themselves. The plastic hoop was becoming a growing cause for concern and it failed to grow with the seal, eventually cutting into the skin around its neck, which put it at risk of a fatal infection.

By the time rescue workers finally successfully and safely captured Mrs Vicar, the hoop had made a 7-centimeter (2.8 inches) cut into her neck, which was clearly infected. The veterinary team at the East Winch branch of the RSPCA in the UK are well prepared for such rescue attempts. The team contains expert seal handlers with lots of experience removing debris such as the plastic hoop from around seals necks. Once it had been cut away, Mrs Vicar was bathed and given some antibiotic injections to encourage the wound to heal.

“Sadly, we know the seal had the ring around her neck for over two years,” said Alison Charles, manager at RSPCA East Winch, in a press release sent to IFLScience. “We can start giving her the salty baths she needs to help her neck wound recover soon. We add two 25-kilogram bags of salt to each bath and she has one bath a day until her neck has begun to granulate. This is the healing process when you cannot debride and stitch a wound.”

“It’s so infuriating knowing that this injury could have been prevented. All we can do now is hope that Mrs Vicar is strong enough to pull through. Even if she makes it through the next few days, we are not out of the woods, and we will be treating her for a number of months.”

If you live in the UK and see an animal you have concerns about, contact the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999. Never attempt to capture or handle an injured seal.

Find out what it’s like to work as a whale disentanglement responder in our IFLScience Meets interview with Ed Lyman.

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