VIDEO: MMRR Team Successfully Disentangles a Gray Seal

The Marine Mammal Rescue hotline had been ringing off the hook all day, so we weren’t terribly surprised when, in the early afternoon, the familiar ring tone sounded once again.

The caller reported a seal hauled out on North Beach Island in Chatham, with its entire body entangled in fishing gear.

“Is the animal alone?” Misty, our Necropsy Coordinator, asked. International Fund for Animal Welfare staff soon realized this animal was the perfect candidate for a disentanglement attempt: a sub adult female gray seal hauled out alone in a remote location during an outgoing tide.

The IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team receives dozens of reports of entangled gray seals during the summer months; unfortunately, without the right conditions, disentanglement attempts are often infeasible.

Today, however, was different, as we had the opportunity to make a difference in the life of an individual animal. Without our help, this animal’s future would be filled with suffering; the gear constricting tighter around her neck and body as she grew, eventually causing severe wounds and infection; she would succumb to a premature death. We seized the opportunity to free her, heading immediately for Chatham.

The incredibly helpful Chatham Bars Inn crew with our MMRR team and volunteers.

The remarkable employees of the Chatham Bars Inn Beach House Grill greeted us upon arrival. They provided a beach cart to carry our disentanglement equipment to the Chatham Bars Inn boat, “Bartender,” and Captain Steve ferried us quickly to North Beach for the rescue attempt.

Weighed down with gear, we made the 20-minute walk to the far side of the island with our interns and volunteers, including IFAW Board member Dave Metzler, all the while hoping that the seal had not made her way back into the water. We were in luck; she was still at the water’s edge.

To avoid detection, we quietly made our way down the beach, directly behind the seal. The heavy hoop net suddenly seemed weightless as I made my way closer to the seal, the reality of a potential capture setting in.

Success! With the net cast over the animal, Misty immediately controlled its movements and “crowder boards” were quickly positioned, taking away the seal’s escape route to the water. The focus quickly shifted from capture to disentanglement.
I cut the monofilament netting around her neck. The underlying skin bounced back toward me, relieved of the constriction; the seal became noticeably more active.

I quickly removed the remaining gear from her thin body. 23 minutes later, the seal was free of all gear and sporting a newly-applied orange tag on her right rear flipper. In a coordinated effort, we removed our net and retreated.

The seal wasted no time making her way to the water, swimming freely and occasionally surfacing to look in our direction.

The quiet scene was quickly filled with the cheers of onlookers. During the walk back to the Chatham Bars Inn boat, I could not help but think of our next disentanglement opportunity.

Today was another wonderful, rewarding day at work; I smile to myself, looking forward to so many more.

-- JH

For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world, visit

Comments: 1

6 years ago

Nice job Misty, Jane, Larry and all!

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