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31 Aug 2020

Wildlife boat trips at Inverewe

A seal pup swims away from the camera on the surface of bright blue, calm water.
A seal pup at Inverewe
The shores around the Trust’s most northerly heritage garden are abundant with wildlife, and visitors can now enjoy this rich natural heritage not only on the garden walks but also from the loch.

Recent wildlife boat trips have been really lucky, with sightings of sea eagles as well as members of the ‘Big Five’. The Big Five – otters, seals, red deer, red squirrels and golden eagles – are part of daily life in this north-west corner of the Highlands.

Book online for a one- or two-hour Inverewe Wildlife Boat trip

Visitors on a trip last summer had an even more spectacular experience, witnessing an unexpected wildlife rescue! Skipper Jamie Elder, a local fisherman and scallop diver, had been preparing his boat to leave as usual for a wildlife tour from the jetty at Inverewe Garden. He’s used to hearing all the sounds of nature and on this day he could hear a seal pup calling out. He realised it was in distress as the pup was calling louder and more frequently.

Jamie quickly called the experts at the British Divers Marine Life Rescue and gave them the details. They advised him to call the nearest SSPCA team (from Ullapool, about an hour away) to come to the rescue.

Help was on its way for the baby seal! The team from Ullapool arrived and began the rescue, all watched by the visitors who were booked onto the wildlife boat trip, including Ian and Sue Spooner from Northampton.

Ian remembers it well: ‘As we waited excitedly for our pre-booked boat trip, we noticed a young seal that was swimming around and calling quite mournfully. Every now and then, it came up onto the jetty steps near the water. It did this several times and started staying out of the water for longer and longer.’

Jamie had met the rescue team at the main entrance to Inverewe Garden and accompanied them through the garden to the jetty.

Ian continues: ‘Soon Jamie arrived with two guys from the SSPCA wildlife rescue team to rescue the little seal. We anticipated a bit of a struggle to catch the seal, but it seemed to know these men were here to help it and gave up without a fight.’

Jamie then takes over the story:

‘By now, the seal pup was swimming round and round my boat, and we realised this was our chance to save him. Chris, the leader of the local rescue team, got his thick, elbow-length safety gloves on, as seal pups can have a nasty bite. He went down to the water’s edge at the bottom of the jetty and tried to get the pup over, but he wouldn’t come.’

So Jamie then tried. Now, whether it was that the pup knew his voice or could smell the soup and sandwiches from Jamie (who had just eaten his lunch), we really don’t know! But the wee seal was watching Jamie the whole time.

Jamie continues: ‘I squatted down on my knees, opened my arms out and made a sort of clicking nose with my mouth. And over he swam, into my arms! I scooped him up like the newborn he was, wrapped a wet towel round him and placed him in the special carrier that the rescue team had bought with them.’

Two men carry a large animal crate between them as they walk beside some metal railings on a jetty. A red towel lies over the top of the crate.
The seal pup was taken to safety.

From there, the Inverewe seal pup was taken to the SSPCA centre in Inverness for the night and then on to the SSPCA National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Alloa, a specialist seal rehabilitation centre. (Pic 5 & 6). Over the first couple of weeks they built up the pup’s weight and strength with a special feed mixture. After a while he was taken out to very large pools of water, where he got used to swimming and feeding in the outdoors. Then he was ready for the next stage in the rehabilitation plan, which took place at a centre in Fife for orphaned pups and injured seals. Here our Inverewe seal pup was slowly introduced to wild seal colonies whilst being carefully monitored. The Scottish Wildlife Rescue Centre later released our rather well-travelled pup on the west coast, north of Oban.

A man in a bright blue fleece stands at the wheel of a boat, in a covered area. He looks towards the camera and smiles.
Jamie Elder, skipper and seal saviour!

Our visitors on this eventful day at Inverewe went on to enjoy a fascinating, albeit slightly delayed, wildlife boat trip. Ian and Sue say: ‘After the excitement of the seal rescue, we went out with Jamie and had a fantastic couple of hours. The skipper was very knowledgeable and quite obviously a proficient boatman.’

We look forward to welcoming you on a wildlife cruise soon!

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