A DEAD seal on a Caithness beach might not seem newsworthy but when the mammal is tangled in discarded waste, it tells a much bigger story.
With the seas becoming more polluted by plastics and other man-made debris, the tale turns into a global issue. On Tuesday afternoon Mark Cumming was walking his collie dog along Dunnet Beach when he noticed several dead seals.
“I had only walked a short distance, maybe half a mile, and counted four dead seals.”
Mr Cumming tried to call his dog away from sniffing about one particular seal when he noticed it was tangled up in a rope that was attached to a 20-litre plastic drum. He thinks that the debris may have contributed to the animal’s death and when he found a large amount of discarded plastic waste at high tide further along the beach, it brought home to him the wider issues surrounding pollution in the ocean.
“I know this has been in the news a lot lately but like most things you see on the TV, you tend to switch off and forget all about it. Then you see it first hand on a local beach and realise how bad it actually is.”
Near the burn that runs through the middle of the beach was what Mr Cumming termed a “shocking” amount of plastic oil drums, drinks bottles, milk cartons, fertiliser bags, plastic household waste, old nets and plastic sheeting.
Dr Neil James, of the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso, is a marine ecologist who has been leading work on the presence and impact of plastics in the ocean. He told the Groat that across the globe eight million tonnes of plastic enters the sea each year.
“There are a number of different ways in which plastic can harm marine mammals. Animals can become entangled in plastic such as rope and fishing nets, which can impair their mobility, causing injury or even the death of individuals,” said Dr James.
Willie Munro, of Caithness Seacoast Tours, told the paper how he recently came across a juvenile minke whale, close to Whaligoe, that had got wrapped up in a creel marker which consisted of a buoy and a length of rope.
“We were just too late to save the whale,” he said.
After being told about the dead seal at Dunnet, Mr Munro believes the rope and drum were used to mark a creel or anchor and said it was common practice for fishermen to use such tackle.
“Judging by the pictures I would say that this was used by less than professional mariners. It should have been marked more clearly as it’s a danger to not only sea creatures but other mariners who could get fouled up by it.”