As well as commercial hunting and the effects of climate change, seals are also threatened by injury, illness, entanglement and stranding. IFAW’s Marine Mammal Research and Rescue (MMRR) and our Seals teams work to rescue seals wherever we can.
Entanglement and strandings on Cape Cod, United States
Stray fishing equipment poses a growing threat to the safety of marine mammals including seals. Entanglement can lead to long-term chronic injury, prevent seals from feeding and swimming normally and may lead to life-threatening infections. Every year, near our international headquarters on Cape Cod, we spot seals entangled in fishing gear. Our Marine Mammal Rescue and Rehabilitation (MMRR) team mobilises to free the seals from what would be a slow and painful death.
We have worked to rescue stranded marine mammals since the 1980s and helped create the Cape Cod Stranding Network in 1998. Our stranding work is focused primarily on Cape Cod since this area has an unusually high number of strandings each year. There are many conditions that can bring about strandings, including rough and disorienting weather, sickness or injury, boat strikes, and entanglement in fishing equipment.
Rehabilitating monk seals in Greece
Several thousand years ago, the monk seal was a common sight in the Mediterranean Sea; today, it is fighting for survival. This historically large population, half of which live and breed in Greek waters, is now estimated at fewer than 600 monk seals spread over Mediterranean and West African countries.
Since the 1980s IFAW has conducted and funded research, supported protected areas in which monk seals live and contributed to guidelines and initiatives to save them from extinction.
IFAW has a long-standing collaboration with the Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal (MOm), a Greek organization. In the 1990s, IFAW funded the research vessel, the IFAW Odyssia, which is still used for monitoring the Mediterranean monk seal population today.
One of the important elements of IFAW’s work with MOm is the rescue and rehabilitation of seals – mainly seal pups. Monk seals have retreated from human encroachment, moving away from the shingle beaches where they used to give birth, and into caves with narrow strips of shingle where they are more protected from humans. As a result, pups are born close to the water’s edge and are occasionally washed away from their mothers into the sea.