Accommodation of Casualty Seals (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management/ Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Accommodation which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Halichoerus grypus - Grey seal, Phoca vitulina - Common seal.

These species are within the family Phocidae.

Transport Container:

  • Heavy-duty plastic transport kennel (e.g. Vari Kennel, Sky Kennel) or wooden crate; 
  • Specially built aluminium cages may be required for larger individuals. These may be top-opening or have vertically sliding doors, and should be designed with lift points suitable for attachment of a winch (D60).
  • Should be sufficiently large to allow the animal to lie down stretched out, raise its head, and turn around. (D60)
  • Top opening containers are preferred. (D14)
  • Strong wire cage may be used for pups. (D14)
  • Good provision of ventilation (essential as seals are prone to hyperthermia (overheating).
    • Ideally ventilation openings should be small enough to prevent the occupant from biting at the container (risking tooth/mouth injury). (D60)
    • Ventilation openings should be large enough to allow the carers to wet the animal periodically if required.(D60)
  • Towels for bedding.
  • Strong external handles/grips for carrying.
  • Door/lid should be securely fastened to prevent escape.
  • For transportation on water, a seal may be placed in a stretcher with long poles and the poles suspended between the tubes (sides) of an inflatable boat (RIB). (D14)
  • (P19.3.w4, V.w26, D14, D60).

Short term (Immediate/Emergency) Accommodation:

  • Quiet, dimly lit area.
  • Good ventilation but free from draughts.
  • Cleanable surfaces.
  • Floor insulation provided by rubber matting or layers or towels/blankets.
  • Heat source should be available; this is most likely to be needed for very young or emaciated animals.
  • It is important when choosing emergency accommodation to give proper consideration to the safe handling and later removal of the animal from the area.

(D14, D60)

Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation:

Individual intensive care pens / pens for orphaned seals:

  • Strong construction.
  • Able to be flooded to about 0.2-0.4m
  • 1.5 by 1.8m approximate dimensions, walls solid, 1.0m high. 
  • 2 metre by 2 metre fibreglass pens, walls 0.6m high. (J23.28.w3)
  • All surfaces finished with glazed ceramic tiles.
  • Floor covered with a pallet of smooth moulded plastic slats.
  • Cleaned daily by thorough rinsing using a pressure hose
  • Good ventilation without draughts.
  • Localised heat source (e.g. infra red lamp) should be available if the pup's temperature is low. Alternatively the room should be heated up to approximately 15 degrees centigrade.
  • Seal pups are prone to hyperthermia and should not be exposed to excessive heat.
  • (J3.134.w3, D14, D28)

Larger pens for providing access to water and teaching self-feeding:

  • 3.4 by 2.1m approximate dimensions (J3.134.w3) (pool area at least 5 square metres surface area). (D28)
  • Enclosure walls must be robust: steel or robust wood (D28); all surfaces finished with glazed ceramic tiles. (J3.134.w3)
  • Able to be filled to a depth of at least 0.5m with water.
  • Sloping to dry haul-out area. (D28)
  • Suitable for group housing of small numbers of pups
  • (J3.134.w3, D28)

Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation:

  • Large pen, with pool area at least 16 square metres surface area, plus haul-out area or areas
  • Water depth of at least 1.4m to allow seals to float hanging vertically.
  • Visual barrier to protect from the sight of humans walking past
  • Pinnipeds can be kept in fresh water in the short term, although in the longer term increased incidence of eye and skins lesions has been reported. Provision of sea (salt) water is preferred for longer term care. (J23.28.w3, P26.2000.w1)
  • Whilst seals can tolerate a variation of water quality in the short term, in the longer term poor quality water can lead to health problems (skin and eye lesions) and increased skin and eye lesions has been

(D28, D45, P26.2000.w1)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Short-term (Immediate / Emergency) Accommodation is designed to be used for a short period of time only, e.g. prior to examination, to allow basic first-aid to be carried out, while an animal requires intensive care, or while specialist accommodation is being prepared.
    • The most important requirements are warmth, quiet and dark or dim lighting.
  • Medium-term (Hospitalisation) Accommodation is designed for the short-term care of individual animals or groups of animals, particularly during treatment and rehabilitation.
    • Hospital accommodation is commonly constructed with hygiene and easy cleaning as the main considerations, but the specific needs of the patients, including behavioural needs, should also be considered.
  • Long-term (Rehabilitation and Permanent) Accommodation facilities for wildlife are generally larger and more complex than accommodation designed only for temporary occupancy.
    • In general this type of accommodation is not suitable for animals which require daily treatment.
    • A period in rehabilitation accommodation is important when an animal has been hospitalised for some time.
  • Outdoor enclosures must be constructed to be safe for the occupant, escape-proof and provide shelter from inclement weather and excessive sunshine.
  • Sufficient space must be provided in group-housing accommodation for animals to maintain normal distances between one another.
  • Clean out individual enclosures daily.
  • Pens should be disinfected on a regular basis (not whilst the seal is present) and between changes of occupant. (J23.28.w3, V.w26)
  • If an animal is maintained in long-term care accommodation for a substantial period of time, the animal must have some form of environmental enrichment to encourage natural behaviours (possibly through food presentation techniques, cage furniture that encourages activity, or play items that would be found in its native environment). This is to reduce the risk of boredom as the animal becomes accustomed to its enclosure and the possible development of behavioural problems. (V.w6)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Seals are strong and good at escaping if the construction of transport containers or accommodation is not sufficiently robust and doors/gates appropriately fastened.
  • Seals are prone to hyperthermia if ventilation is inadequate; this is particularly likely to occur in transport containers
  • Emaciated individuals and very young pups may become hypothermic if heating is not provided.
  • Large quantities of water are required for housing other than emergency/intensive care housing and initial individual enclosures for hand-reared pups.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Sufficient water supply, preferably sea water.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Construction expertise is required for all except emergency accommodation.
Cost/ Availability
  • Construction of facilities suitable for the care, hand-rearing and rehabilitation of seals is expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Accommodation for casualty wild animals should be designed to minimise the stress on the animal and to minimise the risk of injury to that animal.
  • A wild animal in captivity is protected under the same welfare legislation as domestic animals, e.g. Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000; under this legislation it is an offence to treat a captive animal cruelly or to cause it unnecessary suffering.
    • This includes an obligation to provide proper attention and care.
    • The keeper has a duty to keep all wildlife casualties in a fit manner, in accommodation of a size which allows reasonable movement and with an environment suitable for its normal way of life.
    • (J35.147.w1, P19.2.w1, D27, D28)
  • Accommodation which does not fulfil the physiological and psychological requirements of the animal and results in an inadequate level of fitness at the time of release may seriously compromise the survival ability of that animal. Release of an animal which is unfit may be an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. (J35.147.w1, W5.Jan01).
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risk of zoonotic illness must be minimised: Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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