November 16 2018 Latest news:

Relentless waves at Porthtowan Photo by Kirstin Prisk

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The destruction of sea defences, coastal towns and villages has been well documented but animals living around our coasts are suffering greatly too. Dead sea birds including puffins, razorbills and guillemots, gannets and cormorants are being washed up all along the north and south coasts of Cornwall. This is most likely due to being storm-wrecked by adverse weather conditions that exhaust the birds. Seals are also struggling, with many of this year’s new pups being found stranded, injured, weak and often dead on our shores.

The dedicated volunteers who man Cornwall Wildlife Trusts Marine Strandings Network have been responding to an unprecedented number of reports of dead seabirds and marine mammals. A total of 29 birds, 14 seals (juveniles and adults) and 9 dolphins were recorded dead on the shore in the last 4 weeks. Sadly, these numbers continue to rise.

It is vital that people report what they see using the 24hour Strandings hotline 03452012626. It is particularly useful if you can photograph what you find and look out for clues of death including, pollution (such as oil), entanglement in plastic litter or other injuries.

Niki Clear, Marine Data Officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust says,

‘The relentless storms hitting our coast has had a cumulative effect on animals which can usually cope with bad weather but are now on really low reserves and sadly are dying in large numbers. Sea birds and seals have been particularly badly hit.’

Sue Sayer of Cornwall Seal Group who has been studying seals for the last 20 years says,

‘Many of the autumn pups have been separated from their mothers by the huge seas and of those that have weaned, many that are exploring the seas and learning to feed are suffering injuries such as broken jaws from being thrown against the rocks. The high tides and stormy conditions have meant that many of the beaches the seals use to rest and recoup are covered with water, and there have been reports from around the county of young seals being washed into ridiculous places, up cliffs, into harbours and even into peoples gardens!’

Resting is vitally important for seals who need to spend considerable time out of water to digest their food. At this time of year males are at the peak of their moulting season and prefer to be out of the sea for longer periods but the storms are preventing this. There are huge amounts of litter and debris being washed ashore by the storms and there have been numerous reports of oil being amongst this debris. Plastics can entangle and kill marine animals and oil sticks to the coats of seals and feathers of birds sometimes causing serious harm and death.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) respond to live strandings of marine animals and have been exceptionally busy this winter.

David Jarvis, Director & Cornwall Area Co-ordinator of BDMLR says,

‘Since December we have had over 100 rescue callouts, the vast majority of these have been to seal pups. In a typical year we would expect approximately 150 call outs in a whole year!’

David Jarvis continues,

Not all of these have resulted in a rescue being carried out. Our teams are working around the clock and taking the casualties to rehabilitation facilities. Despite this, it is reasonably apparent that a large number of this season’s pups have been lost.

Unfortunately, there is also a Catch 22 situation, since a good proportion of the call outs have been for seals that are not unwell but are seeking shelter from the weather and are hauling out on the first beach that they can get onto. As Cornwall’s coastal path and beaches are increasingly popular with visitors 365 days per year even historically remote beaches now regularly have people on them. These animals are easily disturbed and instead of being allowed to rest they often get scared and return to the water which adds to their exhaustion.’

For more information on the work of Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine team please contact Matt Slater, Marine Awareness Officer, 01872 273939 ext 214

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