Rare black seal released after Isle of Mull rescue

Bagheera the Atlantic grey seal was five weeks old and only a third of his normal body weight when found on a Mull beach but has been released back into the wild after being nursed back to health. Pic by Colin Seddon
Bagheera the Atlantic grey seal was five weeks old and only a third of his normal body weight when found on a Mull beach but has been released back into the wild after being nursed back to health. Pic by Colin Seddon
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A rare black seal who was near death when he was discovered on a remote Scottish beach has been nursed back to health.

Named Bagheera, after the black panther in Disney’s Jungle Book, the Atlantic grey seal was just a third of his normal weight when he was found on Mull.

Bagheera may not have had a fairytale start in life but his story had a happy ending when he was successfully released back to the wild last week.

The seal spent the last four months recuperating, in the care of the SSPCA’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre team, at Fishcross, Alloa.

Dave Sexton, an RSPB officer on Mull, first noticed the motionless black creature after escorting Channel 5’s Wild Britain film team to remote Killiechronan beach, in search of sea eagles.

He said: “We weren’t sure what it was when we first saw it. It was such an unusual colour for a grey Atlantic seal. I have never seen a black seal before. They are very rare.”

Mr Sexton added: “He was washed up on the high tide mark and we thought he was dead, but he put his head up and we saw he was alive but really underweight. I think another day or two and he would have died.

“He was at the age where he would have been left to his own devices by his mother, but he was clearly unable to support and feed himself and he no longer had his mum.

“He is probably from the Treshnish Isles as that is the nearest seal colony, it was during a period of stormy weather so he had probably been thrown along at sea before being washed up at Killiechronan beach.”

When Bagheera was found on 10 November, aged four to five weeks old, he weighed just 11 kilos when he should have tipped the scales at 30 kilos.

After Mr Sexton raised the alarm the seal was taken by staff from The Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary in Oban, to the SSPCA rescue centre, where he was helped back on the road to recovery by manager Colin Seddon and his team.

Having ensured that Bagheera can now fend for himself, the SSPCA arranged for his release off the west coast.

Grey seals are usually born white but their coat changes colour when they shed their fur at about two to three weeks old.

Most male grey seals are darker in colour than the females of the species, but black seals are a rarity.

Black seals are known as melanistic, as their dark colour is a result of excessive melatonin.

A jet black seal pup was found at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Donna Nook Reserve in November last year.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “They all have that white fluffy coat when they are born and they moult to reveal their first waterproof adult coat, ready to go out to sea. Normally that’s a kind of greyish colour with dark splodges.”