Dear All Seal Supporters,
It is with a heavy heart and extreme sadness, that I bring you an account of today's seal rescue.
I do so to remember, a dear friend, a fighter and a seal I had grown to love dearly and I hope his wonderful spirit in life, can now be shared by all in his death.


In 2001, a young bull seal, who became fondly known as Flipper, arrived at my floating rescue raft in the harbour. He was barely alive, bone thin starving and with his left front flipper completely disabled, due to a severe bullet wound, which had left a gapping hole. Although it had smashed most of his main flipper bones, it had passed through and there was no internal infection. Flipper slowly recovered, and for a further 2 years, I watched him almost daily, slowly recover. Swimming initially with just one flipper, he slowly recovered the use of the other until, his injury was barely noticeable. On dry land, he walked with a bit of a limp, but by 2004, besides the scar, he was almost completely healed and surviving very well on his own. In fact, he had grown into an amazingly intelligent, handsome big bull. He was the first seal, as depicted in an old Seashepherd release, when Seashepherd kindly sponsored our Seal Rescue boat, he was the first seal to test and approve it. He assisted in saving numerous seal lives by coming with me on countless rescues, and he loved our late sunset trips to the nearby offshore seal colony, this was our alone time together. Flipper had defended me on so many occassions, when other large bulls become overly aggressive or pushy towards me, he would step in, protecting me, he was in a sense my right hand man, my shadow - working in the wild with wild seals.

3 weeks ago, Flipper left my raft, and went out on an intensive foraging feeding session, and it was hoped, that this year, as he had grown to be the dominant male around, that he would, try for the first time to mate. Previous mating periods, Flipper was too young, and spent his Christmas time with me on rescues instead. He was just one of those special seals, who was so gentle he would not even harm a fly, even though life had thrown the worst at him, and I had seen him be abused time and time again by crayfish poachers and fishermen. Twice he become entangled in loose discarded fishing line, that cut around his neck severely, coming back to me to free him, with the ease of shaking an old friends hand. One drunk fisherman some time back, even broke a beer bottle over flipper's head. So with his leaving to set up his mating territory on the island, I for one had great hopes for his amazing genes to be finally passed onto the next generation of his kind, within the next few days or weeks.

Today, started with me trying to get everything ready for the start of pup stranding and rescue season about to start shortly. A recently purchased second-hand 4x4 I had just purchased developed engine problems, and I was stuck in peak traffic. When I received a Seal Rescue Call from a member of the public, a big seal is bleeding all over a pier very badly, and hour later still waiting for the tow truck another call came in, reporting the same. It would be 4 hours before, I could finally arrange transport and get to Flipper.

I found Flipper lying in pools of thick red blood. So thick was the blood it bubbled. His entire body was covered in blood from head to hind flipper. Upon examination it was clear, there was a hole next to his right nostril, and a vein had been ruptured. What caused it is unknown or unclear. It squirted out a steady stream of blood continuously. From reports from other by-standers, Flipper had been bleeding like this since 11 am, and waiting patiently for me on this pier, it being now 6 pm. I could clearly see the immense loss of blood was weakening Flipper. I have save many thousands of seals over the years, but a vet I am not, and this clearly needed the expertise of a vet. A quick call to Seal Alert-SA local vets, Bruce and Kathy, received an immediate response and Kathy arrived within 10-minutes. Flipper is a large powerful bull, weighing in excess of 250 kg, about the size of a bear.

Kathy, the vet and I examined Flipper as best we could. It was clear we needed to capture Flipper and stitch up that vein and hole. More than a 10% body weight in loss of blood can become fatal. This wound was clearly not going to stop flowing blood. We decided to try and capture Flipper and attempt to restrain him sufficiently, for Kathy to work safely around his large powerful jaws, that can bite a coin clean through. Twice we tried, but Flipper would have none of it being kept in a net. His power was immense. In one episode, Flipper dented and damaged Kathy car door quite badly, which Seal Alert-SA has taken responsibility for and will cover the full costs of repair.

It was decided to calm Flipper down by giving him a meal of frozen pilchards, little did I know this would be his "last supper". Getting Flipper into position and readying the capture net. We were now going to sedate him with the lowest dose, we had to be very careful for once sedated, if he fell off the pier into the water during a struggle, he would drown, and therefore I dressed into a drysuit just in case, to go into the water and keep him from drowning if this should happen. Flipper knew we were trying to help save his life. The pics above, are after two attempts of capturing whereby he struggled free on both occasions, but still he remained in trust.

Flipper attempting to keep his head upright to slow the flow of blood. Captured and sedated, I am not holding flipper down whilst the drug takes effect over the next long 10-minutes. His power immense, but slowly weakening. Kathy the vet, gets to work cleaning the wound and looking for the vein to close it.

The wound is stitched closed, but we noticed Flipper has stopped breathing. Kathy makes various checks, it becomes evident, harshly so, that Flipper has died. My hands covered and dripping in blood. Our help had suddenly turned to an unnaturally forced death.

Our attempts to revive Flipper prove fruitless. A heavy cloud hangs over our group of caring and concerned Seal Rescuers, as Flipper lays silent, still and died at our feet. I cannot logically explain these events, it just hurts, in places it should not. I will miss Flipper dearly, and if I did wrong, and ask him for his forgiveness. Perhaps, I overstepped my mark, disregarded our unique human and wildlife relationship and perhaps I should just have been a friend and let nature decide his fate. I have no sound answers, just immense hurt and sadness in failure.

To Kathy, her friend who risked much and my dear wife, who drove back and forth, my deepest, deepest thanks to you all. I am proud to have worked and tried to help Flipper with you all, and would do it all again with such an unbelievable caring group of people.

For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA