The Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Seals are a familiar sight along the Cornish coastline and are a well-known inhabitant of our local waters, but we don’t always think about what happens if these playful and intriguing creatures are hurt or sick.
Thankfully the Cornish Seal Sanctuary are at hand should these injured animals need medical assistance or sanctuary.
The Sanctuary is located in the idyllic location of the Helford Estuary and has been rescuing and rehabilitating seals for more than 60 years. They are on hand to provide sanctuary for injured seal pups, and a permanent home for seals that require special care from the incredible team of marine animal experts. Annually more than 70 seal pups need their help for a number of reasons from malnourishment to being separated from their mums.
During a visit not only are you helping to keep the sanctuary open but will get to see these delightful marine animals up close, see what antics they get up to, and learn their individual stories but, see the incredible job the staff do in looking after these marine animals, along with penguins, otters and sea lions. You will get an insight into how the dedicated team strive to accommodate their emotional needs, keeping the animals stimulated and entertained as they would be in the wild, so their daily lives are continuously enriched, with them housed in enclosures that replicate their natural habitat. During your visit you can see that the animals are respected and have a safe haven to spend the remainder of their lives or until recovered enough to be released back into the wild.
There are lovely nature trails round the site where you will see their farm animals, including, on-site donkey and goats.
It is worth noting that your entrance ticket gives you return visits as often as you like over the next 12 months. They are a wonderful charity doing a very worthwhile job that benefits so many sick and injured animals, providing them with a safe environment to recover or permanent home if needed. Organisations like the Cornish Seal Sanctuary are imperative for many sick and injured animals that rely on their care, in turn these organisations are dependent on visitors and donations to continue providing care for these injured animals. Their role is important to educate us about the importance of the animals with whom we co-exist. To support the critical work of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, you can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/SealAppeal.
Meanwhile, if you have ever wondered what it is like to work with animals, we had time to chat with Emma, who is an Animal Care Supervisor, she has worked here at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary for the past 9 years, to find out what it is like to work here and what a usual working day entails? It is not often that people get to combine a love of animals with their day job.
What made you want to work at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary?
I was working at a zoo at the time, and a job for an animal care assistant came up! I had worked with lots of different species of animal in zoos for a number of years, but had always had a passion for marine mammals. So I jumped at the chance to work at the sanctuary!
Did you need and particular qualifications?
A degree or equivalent in an animal care/ marine science/ biology subject is desirable. However, practical experience is just as or even more important. Although my degree in Geography wasn't that relevant, I was offered the job due to practical experience working with animals. Volunteering is a great way to get some practical experience and a ‘foot in the door’.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Making sure all our animals on site are well cared for, including our resident seals, sea lions, penguins, otters and paddock animals. This includes doing daily training and enrichment sessions to keep our animals stimulated and healthy. We make sure the pools, pens and paddocks are clean, and the animals are fed throughout the day. We may need to organise veterinary treatment for animals and talk to our vet daily. During the pup season, we need to also look after all the poorly pups in our care, and co-ordinate rescues and releases. A large part of our day is monitoring water quality and maintaining our pools and pump systems that keep our pool water clean.
What kind of tasks do you perform?
Our day is so varied! We could be defrosting and weighing fish in the fish preparation room, doing daily training sessions with our Southern Sea Lions, scrubbing and pressure washing pools, or making enrichment for our otters to play with. Some days we are called out rescues so could be around the Cornish coast too! Some tasks are dirty, smelly and hard work! But I love it all the same.
What's your favourite part about working at your job?
It’s hard to choose! Overall, just working to improve the lives of the animals in our care. Whether that being giving a seal pup another chance in the wild, or constantly working to improve the lives of our resident animals. Thats what I find most rewarding!
What's your least favourite part about working at your job?
Theres not much! But maybe writing records, can be boring but an important part of good animal management!
What’s something you’ve learned about your work here as an animal keeper that you didn’t expect?
That having a sense of humour is so important! I didn't realise how important until I worked a busy pup season! The team is like a little family, having a close team is very important as an animal keeper!
What are some of the traits/skills someone has to have in order to enjoy a career working with animals?
You have to be passionate, a sense of humour and be hard working! Not be afraid of getting stuck in and doing the dirty jobs. Good planning and organisational skills are important as we are very busy, especially during the pup season.
So I understand that you want to make the environment as natural as possible for the animals here. Do humans have any direct interaction with the animals?
For our rescued seal pups that go through rehabilitation to be released back into wild, they get as minimal direct human contact as possible. They are still very much wild when we release them. We make sure we hide when throwing fish in their pools so they dont see us with fish. The last thing we want if for the seals to think that fish comes from humans, they need to learn that fish comes from the water. We do have to catch them to administer veterinary treatment, especially in the hospital, but we use a towel to cover their eyes to keep them calm.
For our resident animals that are not going to be released (either because they have long term health problems or they were born in captivity), they get lots of direct human interaction. Forming a close trust and bond with our resident animals is very important to prevent stress and make it safe for us too! We give them daily training sessions, toys and just spend as much time with them as possible!
How do the animals that arrive at the Sanctuary get their names and who gets to name them?
We name the rescued pups every year using a theme. For example, this year the pups are named after savoury foods! We need a lot of names on the list to use as we can get 60+ rescues in year! Anyone can sponsor and name a pup too! Other animals come with names already, or they don’t already have names then the animal care team can choose, we have seals named after past co-workers or sometimes we have run competitions to name animals.
Have you a particular favourite animal here?
I really love our oldest female grey seals Sheba. She is now 44 years old and the matriarch of our female group. She shows the youngest who's boss, and although appearing lazy most of the time she can really surprise you!
On average how long does an animal spend here with you before being released back into the wild?
Ideally 3-4 months, but it varies depending on how old the pup is when it comes to us and how well it progresses through rehabilitation. Each seal pup has to be 30kg or over and fully healthy before being released.
On average how much does it cost to feed/look after an animal each day?
It costs over £2000 for each pup we rehabilitate, that doesn't include any additional medical care they may need such as surgeries. It costs us £23,000 a month to look after the resident animals that have a permanent home here.
Why do places like the Cornish Seal Sanctuary matter?
Without places like the sanctuary, some of our residents who could not be released wouldn't have had a chance to have a good quality of life. Seal pups in the wild are subject to many human impacts such as plastic pollution, disturbance and net entanglement, and I hope we play a big part in educating the public and our local community on conserving our marine life.
Do you allow yourself to get attached to the animals?
We try not to get overly attached to the rescued seal pups, but we do have our favourites every year! It's still very emotional watching them go when they are released, and you worry if they will be alright out there. Thankfully we get quite a lot of sighting of our seals out in the wild, as they are tagged on their rear flippers, and we get reports from all over the UK of our tagged seals being seen.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spending time with my family and being in, or by the sea!
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what else would you love to do?
At some point I would love to go back to studying a marine science subject!
Thank you so much Georgina for taking time out of your busy day to talk to us, it was very enlightening and we are in awe of te incredible work you guys do on a daily basis for those lovely animals.
Again to support the critical work of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, you can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/SealAppeal.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Gweek, Cornwall, TR12 6UG
Telephone: 01326 221361