A rescue centre is asking folk to send their well wishes to a struggling seal pup whose mother abandoned it after a premature birth.
Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary has been looking after Dave the common seal pup since Friday – and fears “we are not out of the woods yet”.
The pup was first spotted by Susie Smith last Wednesday while she was walking her dog on the beach at Leebitten in Sandwick.
At the time, the mother was still around and so Ms Smith was advised to leave the pup where it was – but to also keep an eye on its progress.
During the following days, the sanctuary’s Pete Bevington said he received many more calls about the young seal.
“By Friday, it was clear that the mother had abandoned her pup,” he added.
“We decided that because he was premature and the mother had not been seen for quite some time, it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Its ability to survive would have been very limited and by this time on Friday the weather was deteriorating with a big storm on the way.
“We thought there was no chance the seal would survive without help.”
Ms Smith rescued the pup from the beach and handed it over to the sanctuary for further care.
Upon arrival, Mr Bevington said it was clear it had been born prematurely.
Unlike other species, common seals are born having already moulted, whereas Dave still had a fluffy coat of silver fur, which is only now starting to moult.
Pups are not usually born until around midsummer – indicating that Dave was around a month premature.
“He’s had a rough start to life but he’s doing really well,” Mr Bevington said.
“He’s been with us for few days now and he’s a wee beauty – a fantastic seal.
“He’s getting stronger, fiercer and harder to handle.
“He’s also getting quite noisy – these are all good signs.”
Despite the positive progress, Mr Bevington said he was “always nervous” with premature pups, particularly common seals, which are struggling as a species.
Whereas there were as many as 6,000 common seals in Shetland 30 years ago their numbers have plummeted to around 1,500.
Mr Bevington said the reasons for the decline were not fully understood but were likely caused by a variety of environmental pressures.
The challenges facing the species have seen a deterioration in the health of pups rescued by the sanctuary.
“Their resilience is nothing like it used to be,” said Mr Bevington.
“They tend to be smaller, weaker and much harder work.”
Whereas the first pups rescued by sanctuary founder Jan Bevington back in 1987 could be fed with chunks of fish, today’s youngsters need to be reared on a special homemade cocktail.
Mr Bevington said the centre had started feeding Dave a mixture of herring, porridge and nutritional supplements, and he was making good progress.
Most rescued pups stay with the centre for around three months but Dave may need to a little longer.
“We are not out of the woods yet with Dave,” said Mr Bevington.
“There are still problems that could develop and we’ve had that happen with premature pups in the past, so we can’t be too confident.
“We’re asking people to send their good wishes to Dave.”