What to do If you find a stranded seal and how to call British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR)

This morning my brother and I spotted this beautiful seal pup on the beach, hauled up a long way from the sea at the edge of the dunes. Actually Fidget the dog discovered the pup so I immediately called him back and kept him on the lead well away from the seal.

It was the cutest little pup – fluffy white fur with a few grey dapples and pleading dark eyes – and though it  was active and didn’t look injured it seemed quite weak. Can you imagine how gutted Caroline is to have missed this experience?

Image of lone grey seal pup asleep on sand
Weary grey seal pup awaiting rescue

It was very young, no more than 3 weeks old, and should still have been suckling milk from its mother. There were no other seals in sight nor sound and the gorgeous little guy clearly needed help. British Divers Marine Life Rescue volunteers came to our aid.

So what do you do if you find an abandoned seal pup?

Very few people know how to save a live baby seal nor who to call, so here’s a checklist.

Why not add the helpline to your phone contacts right now.

Image of grey seal pup lying on sand
Unbearably cute grey seal pup, less than 3 weeks old, found abandoned on a Northumberland beach and rescued by British Divers Marine Life Rescue

How to help a seal pup at the beach

First things first. This is a wild animal. However soft and cuddly it may look it has strong, sharp teeth and a healthy desire to stay alive at all costs. Seals bite and they bite hard!

  1. Stay well back – avoid stressing the animal, watch from a distance and don’t approach it
  2. Remove dogs – keep all dogs on a lead and move them well away from the pup. Dogs will bark and worry seals who will fight back; dogs usually come off worse. Also worth noting, once weaned, young seals naturally carry lungworm which can be fatal to dogs

Once you’ve secured the area to protect the seal, check whether there are other seals around.

3. Scan the coastline and nearby sea for a watchful mother. On a busy beach a mother may not come to retrieve an errant baby so if you spot an adult seal nearby try to clear the area of humans to allow the animals to reunite naturally.

4. Call British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765 546. The helpline will locate the closest Marine Mammal Medic to take care of the seal pup.

These are the numbers, please save them to your phone now as you never know when you might need them: –

British Divers Marine Life Rescue

01825 765546 – Monday-Friday 9am-5pm
07787 433412 –
Out of office hours and Bank Holidays
RSPCA hotline (England & Wales): 0300 1234 999
SSPCA hotline (Scotland): 03000 999 999

My brother named the seal pup Ron – I apologise for his humour! – though the resucers couldn’t ascertain the pup’s sex until it was at the vet.

BDMLR Volunteers

Within 40 minutes of our call to the BDMLR helpline, two Marine Mammal Medics, Joyce and Andy plus another helper were at the beach examining the animal. As my brother said, the dedication of the volunteers to arrive so quickly cannot be underestimated.

Image of woman in high vis top kneeling close to examine grey seal pup on beach
Joyce realised immediately that the pup wouldn’t survive if it went back out to sea, which it did try to do despite being so weak

Using a towel to cover the seal’s head (both to calm it and protect themselves from those aforementioned teeth!) Joyce and Andy manoeuvered Ron into a ‘seal bag’ which they zipped up for security, to weigh him. I believe he was 16kg which is low so it was decided to take the seal to the local vet for examination and then onward transport for rehabilitation at a BDMLR hospital unit in Tynemouth.

Image of man and woman on beach in high visibility jackets holding bag containing grey seal pup for weighing
Safely in the seal bag

I’ll update next week when we know more about how Ron (or Ronnie!) is faring.

If you spot a seal pup at the beach here’s a reminder of what to do: –

  1. Stay back
  2. Remove dogs
  3. Look for Mum
  4. Call the British Divers Marine Life Rescue helpline on 01825 765 546
Image of grey seal pup tracks in wet sand
Seal pup tracks in the sand


Update January 2020

It turns out Ronnie was a female whom they called Opal. She’s doing really well at the Tynemouth rescue centre! A heartwarming result! Here’s their Instagram post.

Where to safely see seal pups in the wild

If you’d like to see seals and their adorable pups up close in the wild (without the trauma of having to rescue them!) there are a few sites around the UK to visit at the right season!

Countryfile Magazine’s safe seal watching article has some useful links and my own two favourite spots are below.

Donna Nook, Lincolnshire

I took these photos at Donna Nook seal colony a few years ago – you can get really close to the seals behind fencing which keeps them safe and avoids stress.

Image close up of seal pup suckling milk from mother on grassy dune at Donna Nook, UK

Image of contented seal pup at Donna Nook lying on back in the sand and sunshine

Image of two adult seals fighting at Donna Nook seal colony with seal pups close

Donna Nook is a fantastic place for children to safely experience a wild animal encounter.

The Farne Islands, Northumberland

Northumberland’s Farne Islands are a haven for many types of UK wildlife and birds. Read about some of my visits during different seasons – it’s remarkable how close you can get to the wildlife! The seals are very inquisitive around the boats when they’re not hauled out to rest.

Image of grey-seals-basking-on-rocky-coastline
Grey Seals at the Farne Islands
Image of grey-seal-head-above-water
Grey seal investigating our boat, Farne Islands

Where to see rescued seals in the UK

There are 5 seal sanctuaries in the UK – in Cornwall, Norfolk, Skegness, Yorkshire, Scarborough, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

Some pics from 2016 of happy marine mammals enjoying enrichment during rehab at the Gweek seal sanctuary in Cornwall. Well worth a visit with the kids.

Image of sea lion enjoying enrichment exercises in the pool at the Gweek seal sanctuary, Cornwall, UK

Image of two seals in a pool at the Gweek seal sanctuary, Cornwall, UK

Don’t forget to put that helpline number in your phone now – 01825 765 546 – you could save a seal’s life!

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Wild wishes to you all for many animal encounters with your kids.

And thanks to my brother, John Holmes, for the pics of the rescue. I had a phone battery fail…