An ocean activist has helped save the lives of 1,000 seals off the coast of Britain – and has even built them a hospital.
Lizzi Larbalestier is a champion for marine animal protection, rescuing seals, dolphins, turtles and sea birds near her home in Cornwall.
She has even closely supported a wandering walrus.
The volunteer for “British Divers Marine Life Rescue” spent nine months caring for injured seals in her Airbnb, but now she and other volunteers have built a fully functioning seal hospital from the ground up in Cornwall.
This week, Lizzi received a prestigious Animal Action Award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), presented at BAFTA, London, to celebrate her pioneering work.
She said: “The new hospital is run by BDMLR volunteers, of which my husband and I are two.
“The new seal hospital is in its third season and we expect around 100 seals to come through here for initial rehabilitation each year.
“The pup season prior to the new hospital being built, we had the seals at our home and I did my day job around helping with animal care.
“During that season my husband and I were joined at our home seal hospital by a small team of dedicated volunteers and we had exceptional vet support from Dr. Natalie Arrow.
“We were only just post-covid lockdowns, and so fewer of us could be involved than we have these days at the new facility.
“It was a particularly busy year, with 139 seals coming through our rehabilitation process, plus we were responding to seal callouts for pups on the beaches that needed our help, but did not need to be brought into the hospital.”
Lizzie is also a volunteer Regional Rep at Surfers Against Sewage and a founder of the net recovery team Ghostnetbuster as well as a lead medic at the seal hospital.
Lizzi put her work as an Award Winning Blue Health Coach mainly on hold to offer BDLMR four months free project management to get the facility built and even got involved in laboring on site.
The new facility has ten pens – whilst the pair’s home facility had six and on one occasion seven.
Lizzi emphasizes the day-to-day work is shared by all of their team, and each volunteer is “crucial” to BDMLR’s marine conservation efforts.
She explains: “The pups get rescued by any one of us volunteer medics and, if necessary, get brought into the hospital where a vet will check them over and create a treatment plan.
“We have clear protocols to ensure pups get the very best care, it is a real team effort.”
“We offer critical care for these animals post-rescue, from maintaining a hygienic environment to providing hydration and nutrition, medication and wound treatment.
“This stabilizes the pups and prepares them to move to larger rehabilitation centers. We can have pups up to three weeks.”
After the hospital treatment, the pups in Cornwall are transferred to the Cornish Seal Sanctuary or West Hatch RSPCA facility, prior to their release out into the wild.
When discussing the number of seals Lizzi has personally helped over the last six years, she admitted: “It’s a tricky number… essentially a lot!
“I have likely personally attended around 250 – 300 call-outs to seals over the last six years – responding to animals in difficulty.
“Not all these pups came into us as some involve monitoring, some relocating, some providing first aid and letting them go, and some disentanglement… and so on.
“From coordinating on the phone hotline to mobilize medics for hundreds of seals, to caring for them at the seal unit we had prior to our home hospital… to running the home hospital, (another 139), and now at the new hospital, approximately 200 so far.
“Add to this training over 100 medics over the last few years who each provide support for the seals and the numbers become hazy… but we all play our part.”
Despite their main rescue efforts involving seals, Lizzi says the team of volunteers at BDMLR are called out on all sorts of marine wildlife including “cetaceans” (whales, dolphins and porpoises)
Recent ones have included responding to a turtle that came into Perranporth (which she relayed to Newquay Blue Reef Aquarium for specialist care), and a rescue operation for eight dolphins who were stranded in the mud at Mylor Bridge.
She explained: “It was a huge team effort in challenging circumstances.
“Sadly whilst we lost one young dolphin, we managed to get seven dolphins back out safely from the mud and that would have been a loss of all eight had we not responded.
“I have been lucky to be involved in several successful refloats of stranded dolphins – and in contrast attended several where the kindest option was euthanasia.
“Sometimes the way that we can reduce their suffering is actually allowing them to die gracefully, rather than herding them back to the sea – especially if they are stranded as a result of being very unwell.
“It is so important if anyone comes across a stranded marine mammal that they call for trained responders.”
Lizzi says it is “very worrying” that many rarer species are coming into UK waters – and it is suspected to be a result of many human-related factors, such as climate change destroying habitats and displacing marine creatures.
She explained: “Animals get knocked off-course for all sorts of reasons – for instance, it can be noise disturbance, which can be a challenge for dolphins impacting their ability to eco locate.
“But take our Atlantic gray seals in Cornwall, for example, at the time that they’re born – September through to November – we are now having more severe storms.
“This means that when the pups are getting to that stage where they are leaving their mum and having to fend for themselves (at only three weeks old), they’re fighting swell and as a result getting malnourished, dehydrated, injured – they just can’t get strong enough because they have to battle increasingly bad storm conditions”.
“We can’t make a direct link to climate change – but with that in mind it is also unusual that we see our animals struggling with different illnesses than perhaps they might have previously had.”
Lizzi is investing time to educate people to prevent further displacement of these animals, particularly championing Walrus.
She said: “Predominantly marine mammals are facing challenges due to us and we are referring to displaced and ‘out of habitat’ animals as climate change refugees – because realistically they are.
“As the climate shifts, we are seeing a migration of animals and people.
“And in other areas of the world, people know how to live in and around large animals, whereas in the UK, it’s very unfamiliar to us.
“It can be the case, such as with Freya the Walrus in Norway, that people’s fascination and desire to get close to that animal actually ends up with that animal having its life ended – which is not OK.
“What we need to understand is that we need to not be disturbing marine wildlife, and instead attempt to protect them.
“So more people spending time in nature and gaining Blue Health benefits is amazing but it is about doing that in an educated way – which does not disturb the wildlife.
“You can end up with seal pups who can get separated from their mums because people have got too close to them.”
Azzedine Downes, President and CEO, IFAW, said: “The Animal Action Awards are our long-standing commitment to honor and herald the animal heroes that make an impact.
“I’m thrilled we are now able to showcase inspiring people from all across the globe – from all different walks of life.
“Like us, their fresh thinking and bold actions are making a difference for animals, people and the place we call home.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Continue reading: Ocean Activist Saves 1,000 Seals, Builds Hospital ...