DeFINitely Hot: Was Freddie the Seal's fate preventable?
Freddie the seal (a juvenile harbour seal named after famous singer Freddie Mercury) was a local celebrity as he chose to call central London his home. Within two weeks, he was frequently spotted frolicking on the river Thames' shores near Hammersmith before attacked by a dog and suffering injuries so severe that vets decided to put him down. While this is, unfortunately, not an isolated case in parts of the world where marine life and beachgoers share coastal environments, this incident is especially tragic because of the detailed photographic documentation of the attack.
Local and international news shared graphic images of the animal being mauled by a brown Schnauzer and pedestrians trying to provide first aid for the wounded seal. He suffered from a broken flipper, damage to joints and nerves and several flesh wounds. The dog owner, a middle-aged woman, tried to intervene, but for Freddie, it was too late.
Was this incident preventable?
The tragic event happened to unfold because the dog was not on a lead and, consequently, could not be controlled by the dog owner. While dog lovers, understandably, want to provide their pets with more freedom during their walks, it is essential for animal welfare that dogs are put on a lead where wildlife might be encountered. Dogs are predators and love to chase, especially hound breeds. This instinct may be so strong that the owner's commands could be ignored, no matter how well behaved a dog usually is. And because of this unpredictability, a lead can provide security and may save a seal's or penguin's life.
I think it is safe to say that as animal lovers, dog owners have a personal interest in taking care of the environment and the devastation the dog owner felt is a testament to this. London is not known to be a marine life hot spot, so that the seal sighting at that time may have come as a surprise.
I do not want to go into detail about whether the seal could have been saved and rehabilitated as I am not a vet. It would concern me, though, if this decision had been made only to avoid a life in human care. Seal rehabilitation centres are a thing and do incredible work with rehabilitation programmes, providing temporary or long-term care for malnourished or injured animals. Euthanasia, usually, is the last resort.
If there's anything beneficial out of this incident, it may have raised more awareness on how we should behave around wildlife so that our recreational needs do not compromise their survival.