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I’m now a trained volunteer Marine Mammal Medic for BDMLR

Estelle holding her Marine Mammal Medic sew-on badge

Last weekend, I completed a day’s training with the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) to become a certified Marine Mammal Medic. This means I’m now qualified and insured to help rescue and administer first aid to injured or sick seals and stranded cetaceans (i.e. dolphins, whales or porpoises) in Argyll and beyond. As I live on an island with a healthy grey seal population, I’m glad to now know how to help if one is in danger or distress.

In fact, just last year I came across a lone seal pup when I was on a morning run. To me, it looked like it was in trouble, but I didn’t know for sure as I had no knowledge of healthy pup appearance or behaviour. Beyond informing local dog walkers to steer clear of the beach, I had no idea of the right thing to do. Luckily, someone local knew to contact the BDMLR. They eventually uplifted the pup and transported it for rehabilitation at a rescue centre* as there was no sign of its mum and it was attracting a lot of attention.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to know what to do in these situations. And now I do!

* In case you’re worried, this male pup was totally fine in the end. He was rehabilitated to a healthy weight and released back into the sea. ☺️

A seal pup with adorable big eyes wrapped in a towel on his way to the rescue centre
A seal pup rescued on Jura, on its way to a rescue centre

Marine Mammal Medic training day

I travelled to beautiful Coldingham Bay in the Scottish Borders for the training. It was such a fun and inspiring day! If you’re interested in marine conservation, or you love seals, dolphins or whales, I highly recommend the training. You’ll learn a tonne, meet lots of new people and get to pour your ocean passion into genuinely helping marine life.

A laptop with the BDMLR online lectures on the screen, with a mug of coffee and some headphones next to it
Watching the BDMLR online lectures ahead of the practical course
A beautiful bay with a curve of sandy beach and bright blue sky
Beautiful Coldingham Bay in the Scottish Borders

Before the practical workshop, we had online lectures to watch, where we learnt about:

  • Identification of different species of dolphin, porpoise, whale and seal
  • Identification of sex and, if female, whether it’s nursing (because this means there’s a calf in the mix)
  • How to assess the health of a seal pup from afar
  • How to assess the health of a cetacean

Then, in the practical sessions, we were shown how to:

  • Safely ‘jump’ a seal with a towel and uplift it from the beach (definitely not as easy as it looks!)
  • Administer first aid to a stranded cetacean and keep it calm
  • Refloat a dolphin, porpoise or whale safely and effectively

I learnt so much about these wondrous marine creatures and it makes my soul so happy to know how to rescue them if needed. Thank you to all who were involved – what a great bunch of caring individuals.

Estelle straddling a model seal pup with a towel secured around its head, while a fellow volunteer holds open a seal bag to put the pup into
Learning how to ‘jump’ a seal pup and uplift it from the beach
A group of volunteers surrounding a model pilot whale, which is having an inflatable pontoon fixed around it
Learning how to administer first aid and refloat a whale (this is the BDMLR’s pilot whale model)
A model common dolphin on the beach, with two BDMLR volunteers next to it
Learning how to administer first aid and refloat a dolphin (this is the BDMLR’s common dolphin model)

The danger of discarded fishing gear to marine life

One thing I learnt during the course is just how horrific fishing debris is to marine life – especially to seals. It’s not uncommon for seal pups to get tangled in lost or discarded fishing gear. The problem is that seal pups grow very quickly; so, if they have a piece of netting around them, this will cut into their body as the seal pup grows, causing horrible traumatic injuries. As well as being excruciatingly painful, these deep cuts can easily become infected, or the entanglement can lead to starvation as the pup can’t forage effectively. Part of a Marine Mammal Medic’s job is to capture entangled seals, gently remove the debris and ensure they get the help they need before being released.

I pick up SO much discarded fishing gear when I do beach cleans on Jura. Marine litter from the fishing industry is a massive problem around the Scottish islands. This medic training has lit a fire in me to put my energy into doing more about this. I don’t know what yet. More clean-ups? Getting involved with petitions? Creating educational content? Maybe all of the above. We’ll see. I just know that this has sparked something in me and I want to help.

A bag full of discarded fishing gear during a beach clean on the Isle of Jura
© BDMLR. A seal pup entangled in marine debris that has cut into it as it grows


I’m delighted to now be on call as a Marine Mammal Medic for the Argyll and Lochaber area. Remember, if you spot a seal, dolphin, porpoise or whale that you’re worried about, keep your distance and call the BDMLR rescue hotline on 01825 765546. They’ll send a qualified medic out to assess the situation and provide the help that’s needed.

That just leaves me to say thanks to the BDMLR for running such a fantastic training day at Coldingham Bay. I’m looking forward to getting involved – although of course I hope that our help isn’t needed!

That’s all for now, my ocean-loving friends. Until next time…

Keep making waves!