Marine animals often get tangled in the many discarded fishing nets, known as ghost nets, around our coast. The fine, plastic monofilament netting is hard to see and very stretchy, making it almost impossible to break without cutting.

As a seal pup grows, entangled netting and other types of rubbish (such as beer can rings) can cause nasty septic wounds as the plastic gets more deeply embedded in the flesh.

Not all seals can be helped. Large, adult seals are very difficult to handle so may be left if the entanglement doesn’t seem to be troubling them.


Living in social colonies, grey seals do sometimes fight - particularly during mating, which happens within a couple of weeks of giving birth. This is a dangerous time for unweaned pups as they can be bitten or crushed by overly ardent males.

Seal pups are also more vulnerable to being thrown against the rocks in stormy seas. Dislocated jaws and infected claws are typical injuries seen with seals that have struggled for purchase on rocks.

Wounds can easily become infected, develop abscesses or lead to septicaemia. If you see a seal with any kind of wound or swelling, report it to BDMLR. Or if you're in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, see the end of this article for other organisations that may be able to help.


Seal pups can suffer from pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Teary eyes are normal but mucus-filled, cloudy eyes are not. If one eye is kept closed most of the time, it could also be a sign of infection.

Other signs of illness include sneezing, coughing or rapid breathing, which is why it's important not to get too close to their heads.

Skinny, wrinkly pups

It’s normal for mothers to leave their pups on the beach while they swim nearby, but seal pups can become permanently separated after a storm, a large spring tide or human interference. If this happens before they’ve learnt how to hunt, they will become malnourished rapidly.

Grey seal pups are weaned on milk that is high in fat - excellent for building insulating blubber for the cold water quickly. Overly wrinkly or baggy skin with a visible neck, ribs or hips is a clear indication of malnourishment, as are a head or limbs that look out of proportion to the body.