A pregnant seal whose body was found washed up on a river mudbank had been deliberately shot in the heart with a rifle, a post-mortem revealed.
It is suspected that the animals were deliberately killed by anglers who were angry that they were interfering with their fishing.
Voluntary group Essex Marine Mammal Rescue and Research announced the findings of a post-mortem – or necropsy – on the body of one of the seals.
“Back in January two dead seals were found with what looked like bullet wounds,” a spokesperson said. “One of the seals was taken to Cetacean Stranding Investigation Program (CSIP) based at London Zoo for a necropsy to be carried out. It was confirmed that all assumptions regarding the death of the seals were in fact correct.”
A report by CSIP’s Rob Deaville said: “This adult seal was in very good nutritional condition at death and was also pregnant with a two to three month term foetus. It had been reported stranded along with another common seal and various reports linked the deaths to shooting. The examination found the cause of death to be consistent with shooting, with a single entry wound between the fore flippers.
“The bullet had penetrated part of the heart and the edge of the left lung. The bullet was recovered during the examination and appeared to be largely intact. It was provisionally identified as a .22 calibre from the width and has been retained.”
Tony Haggis, who runs tours of the backwaters, found the dead seals at the time.
“It’s so sad, I wait 12 months to see the mothers give birth. We believe four were seen dead in the water by angler but only two were found washed up. Unfortunately they don’t have evidence of who did this and it’s gone cold. But by being public those who did it know everyone is watching and looking out.”
Mr Haggis said there is currently a wealth of seal pups in the backwaters, but suspects some were born prematurely and died, which he says is down to people disturbing and distressing the mothers.
He added: “I try to tell people to keep their distance and not to disturb them, it’s very important they are allowed to rest. It’s about respect.”
“We applaud the efforts in trying to find out what happened to the seals, and urge anyone who might have any information to get in touch as soon as they can,” an RSPCA spokesperson said.
Anyone with information should call 0300 123 8018.
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