The Seal Agreement

These days, seals in the Netherlands are doing well. And it is because they are doing well, that we need to act responsibly when it comes to rehabilitating animals in need. We prefer to do this by preventing seals from getting into trouble. After all, preventing problems is better than curing them. Partly due to this, the Seal Agreement was drafted and signed in 2020 by multiple involved parties. We are incredibly happy with this development. But what is the seal agreement? What does it mean for us and our work? Let us tell you all about it!

grijze zeehonden op zandplaat

Wat is het zeehondenakkoord

The The Seal Agreement staan afspraken tussen de partijen die betrokken zijn bij het opvangen van zeehonden. Zo is onder andere afgesproken hoe de opvang van zeehonden er in de toekomst uit moet zien. Dit akkoord is in 2020 getekend door de vijf zeehondencentra, de twee vrijwilligersorganisaties, de vijf kustprovincies, de gemeenten in het Waddengebied en het ministerie van Landbouw, Natuur en Voedselkwaliteit. Daar hebben we ons ontzettend hard voor ingezet. We zijn dan ook supertrots op deze ontwikkeling.

"We believe in a healthy seal, the indicator for a healthy sea."

What does the Seal Agreement say?

This agreement states the following:

  • Seals may only be taken when absolutely necessary (for example, due to illness or injuries).
  • Seals (that appear to be) in distress should first be observed for 24 hours, unless the situation does not allow this.
  • Only medically qualified personnel (such as veterinarians) of an operating seal centre may decide whether a seal should be taken to rehabilitation or not.
  • We need to train seal guards. These are specialists who watch over the seals along the coast. opgeleid worden. Dit zijn specialisten die waken over de zeehonden op het strand.
  • It is forbidden to touch seals, except for the seal guards. They are only allowed to handle seals on behalf of the seal centre for which they are active.

Tightening the rules

In 2021, it turned out that it was necessary to make the agreements more clearly defined. Since then, only the three operational seal centres can call for a seal guard to check on a seal. “Operational” in this case means that the centre has the right facilities and staff to immediately take in any seal in need. The three operational seal centres are A Seal, Ecomare and us — Seal Centre Pieterburen. Each centre has its own seal guard team.

These three centres are responsible for the rehabilitation of seals along the Dutch coastline. Together, we work to enforce the Seal Agreement. We have already managed to achieve great results, thanks to our cooperation and the voluntary involvement of our dedicated seal guards.One of the results is the decrease in rehabilitated seals. Since the implementation of the Seal Agreement, fewer seals had to go to centres for help. Instead, more seals were given aid in the spot where they were found. This way, they could stay where they belong — in the sea.

Why was the Seal Agreement necessary?

The Netherlands didn’t have clear enough rules about why, when, and how one should rehabilitate seals. Too many different parties were involved in different ways. Not everyone agreed with each other on the best methods for seal rehabilitation. Ultimately, the disagreements became so severe, that illegal seal rehabilitations started to pop up.

To complicate matters further, there are people who believe that seal rehabilitation should stop altogether. This is why the Dutch government asked scientists for advice on how to proceed. Their advice was discussed with all parties involved who are legally allowed to rehabilitate seals. It was used to come to an agreement about rehabilitation protocols.

Scientific Advisory Committee on Seal Rehabilitation

In 2017, the Dutch government decided to appoint a "Scientific Advisory Committee on Seal Rehabilitation". This committee consisted of Dutch and international scientists, each representing a different field of study. Among them were specialists in the fields of marine biology, infectious diseases, and ethics, to name a few. To formulate their advice , they compared the situation in the Netherlands with the rest of the world. They also considered the way people in the Netherlands treat nature and how we rehabilitate animals in need.

The most important part of their advice was that it is no longer necessary to rehabilitate seals with the aim to preserve the population, but that rehabilitation still serves other goals. Any rehabilitation should only be done by specialists — the seal centres and their seal guards. With the current rescue protocols — set up according to the Seal Agreement — rehabilitation won’t harm the wild seal populations. It also prevents clashes between people and animals as much as possible.

With that said, seals in the Netherlands face enough human disturbances that rehabilitation remains necessary. People and their activities in nature are the greatest threats to seals. That’s why it is important that we — as a seal centre — do everything in our power to prevent seals from getting in the kind of trouble that might make rehabilitation necessary. Ultimately, the very best place for the seal is the sea.

Would you like to know more about it? 
Scientific Advisory Committee:
https://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0039886/2017-09-01
Advice EN:
https://edepot.wur.nl/443852#:~:text=TheSACadvisestostop,sealsorotherprotectedanimals

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