A SEAL that grew up with illegal netting embedded in its neck was rescued on a Scottish beach as it drew its last breaths.
Dramatic video of the rescue shows a gaping wound in the grey seal’s neck caused by the net biting ever deeper as it got bigger.
The distressing film shows that the stricken animal clearly fighting for breath as it lies helpless on a Shetland beach.
But within moments of the netting being cut away the seal is revived and makes for the open sea. There is a touching moment as the seal pops its head out of the water and looks back at its rescuers.
The monofilament wires – illegal in the UK for almost 30 years – could have been wrapped around the seal’s neck for up to a year.
The creature would have suffered agony and increasing difficulty breathing as it grew from a pup and the netting cut deeper.
Experts believe the wound will eventually be healed by the sterilising effect of seawater and that the seal will make a full recovery.
The seal was first spotted on a beach on Saturday in Fethaland on the northern tip of the mainland.
The weather was so bad that rescuers could not get to the area for three days.
Jan Bevington, who runs the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary along with husband Pete, said: “We managed to get down on Tuesday but we almost gave up when we couldn’t find the seal. Thankfully, as we were leaving the beach someone spotted it and we were able to help.
“The net was cutting really deeply into its throat and it could hardly breathe. We covered its head so it wouldn’t be startled or bite, and after about five minutes managed to cut all the monofilament off.
“The seal just lay there very still the whole time – I think it could tell we were trying to help it.
“However, as soon as the net was off it rocketed into the sea. It was lovely to see and it even turned around one last time before disappearing.”
Jan said that the risk of infection was low because the salt water would clean the wound.
She added; “The danger of leaving netting around needs to be highlighted. This seal could hardly breathe, couldn’t swallow and wouldn’t have been able to dive for food.
“If we hadn’t found it, it would have died a slow and very horrible death. It was already very thin and emaciated so it wouldn’t have eaten for a long time.
“We were high as kites when it ran off. It was a lovely end to a three-and-a-half day saga.”
She said that finding seals in this condition was a “regular occurrence” and made a plea to fishermen to not abandon their nets.
“This type of netting is now illegal, but unfortunately a lot is still floating around in the sea,” she explained.
“I would urge fisherman to not abandon their nets in the sea, and if anyone sees nets floating around to pick them up and take them away from the beach.”
Monofilament nets consist of thin mesh-like plastic wires which used to be popular for catching fish. They are cheap to produce and are effective as their clear colouring makes it hard for fish to spot them before it is too late.
However, in 1986, the use of monofilament nets for inshore fishing in Scotland was made illegal, due to the environmental impact they were causing and to protect salmon stocks.
A Scottish SPCA spokesperson said: “We would urge anyone fishing to show consideration to the natural environment and its wild inhabitants. It’s vital that people make sure they clear away every last piece of fishing equipment as it could save an animal’s life.
“Anyone who discovers an injured or distressed wild animal should call the Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.”