More than 50 years ago, we started rescuing seals in need. In the meantime, our work has grown extensively: not only do we rehabilitate seals, but we also protect them and their habitat. Thanks to our knowledge and experience, we are getting better at deciding whether an animal really needs to be taken in or whether they can save themselves. With the deployment of professionally trained seal guards this year, we want to prevent even more that seal get into trouble. A great step in the right direction: prevent if possible, only take in an animal when absolutely necessary. On this page you can read all about these brand new heroes.

Zeehondenwachter zomer 2022

 

WHAT IS A SEAL GUARD?

Perhaps you have already come across them on the beach. You can recognise them by their brightly coloured vests, bearing the logo of an operational seal centre: seal guards. This spring (2022), the first seal guards in the Netherlands were officially trained. And we are quite proud of that.

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Seal guards are specially trained professionals or volunteers who act on behalf of a rehabilitation centre along the Dutch coast when seals are reported. These seals may be sick, injured or orphaned. Only seal guards are allowed to help, assess, and handle a seal when necessary - according to the Seal Agreement (in Dutch) signed in 2020. This is forbidden for non-official seal guards. On top of that, it can be life-threatening for both humans and animals. The acknowledgement of seal guards helps enormously in protecting seals and preventing (beach) public from handling seals themselves.

Although mostly well-intentioned, this still happens. Far too often. Ironically, mankind and his activities are one of the greatest threats to seals. A harrowing example of this is the story of seal pup Dumbo. Unfortunately, Dumbo got into the wrong hands, and ended up in a rehabilitation centre.

 Read the peculiar story of seal pup Dumbo.Dumbo

 

EARS, EYES AND VOICE FOR SEAL CENTRES

Seal guards are trained to be the eyes and ears of the experts at the seal centre they work for. There are three operational centres in the Netherlands: A Seal in Stellendam, Ecomare on Texel and us - Sealcentre Pieterburen. We see seal guards primarily as our heroes of the day. After all, the best environment for every seal is a healthy sea, and every day they work to prevent seals from getting into trouble.

 hesje zeehondenwachter

 

Seal guards are our eyes and ears on the beach when it comes to assessing a seal, but also our voice when it comes to contact with the public along the Dutch Wadden Sea coast. They are the ones who stand next to the public on the beach and provide information about the seal, its habitat and the rehabilitation policy of seals in the Netherlands.

 

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NO REHAB, JUST PEace

Seal guards are able to determine whether the seal needs help at all. Often, this is not the case, but the wild animal just needs rest and space. We cannot say it often enough: the best environment for every seal is a healthy sea. This is where the seal guards plays an important role. A great example is the reunion of mother and pup in the Dollard during the observation period. Since seal guards work with strict observation rules, we give seal mothers the opportunity to return to their pup.

Read the story how mother and pup found eachother again.

Hereniging pup Dollard in observatieperiode

Seal guards are well trained in assessing the situation. They are in close contact with the veterinarians and sealnurses at the rehabilitation centre. From their joint expertise they decide on the best course of action for each individual animal. They are also well trained in creating a safe environment for the seal. For example, moving the animal in distress to a more suitable, quiet place - where the public can't come. 

 Zeehondenwachter voorjaar 2022

 

the training

 Seal guards are trained to work safely around and with seals. They follow a special training course. This training has been developed by the seal centres, under the supervision of Ies Akkerdaas. She is active for seal guards on Terschelling and a former teacher at the veterinary faculty of Utrecht University. This has resulted in a professionally designed course, fed by all the knowledge, expertise and experience of the centres themselves.

Zeehondenwachter training

 

Theory and practice

The training contains a theoritical part and a practical part.

The theoretical training includes:

  • The characteristics of seals in the Netherlands;
  • How to recognise possible abnormalities;
  • How to contact the rehabilitation centre about this;
  • How to drive and work safely on the coast;
  • How to communicate with the public and the regulations surrounding seals.

 Pup wegen

The practical training includes:

  • How to safely capture a seal;
  • How to safely place a seal in a transport crate;
  • How to transport a seal in a safe way;
  • How to stabilise a seal;
  • How to cool a seal;
  • Release a seal from entanglement.

With all this knowledge and skills, seal guards can work for the centre under whose licence they work.

 Zeehondenwachter

 

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WHAt you can do when you encounter a seal

It may happen that you encounter a seal on the beach. Do you know what you should do? Give the seal plenty of space, at least 30 metres. If you have trouble estimating this: that is about 7 cars parked in a row. Keep your dog on the lease, because a seal bite can be dangerous for your dog too. If you are unsure whether the seal is alright, you can always call 144. They will bring you into contact with a seal rehabilitation centre. If the seal indeed does need help, the centre will send a seal guard. The guard may also want to call you to secure the location. After that, a period of about 24 hours will follow during which the seal will be observed, unless acute help is needed. The most important thing is to keep your distance and leave the seal in peace.