A seal has died after becoming entangled in a large amount of marine pollution off the Cornwall coast.
The seal was found washed ashore at Trebarwith Strand, near Boscastle, on Monday having been spotted by members of the public trapped in marine litter and “ghost” fishing gear two weeks previously.
The mammal was entangled in 35kg of pollution and would have been unable to dive or swim, according to experts.
Volunteers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Strandings Network attended the scene to record and photograph the seal in detail.
They said that as the material around the seal’s neck was gradually cut away, more and more of the injury was revealed until it became clear the mammal had endured a horrific amount of suffering.
Michelle Robinson-Clement, from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said: “This animal suffered a prolonged, tortured death, there is no question of that.
“He is one of the worst cases of entanglement we have seen anywhere in the world due to the extreme nature of his injuries.
“The material that was taken off him weighed 35kg – he wouldn’t have been able to swim or dive.”
A post-mortem examination found the heavy load of net had created a huge, encircling wound between the seal’s head and shoulders that had caused so much damage to the muscles of the neck that the vertebrae and windpipe were visible.
Veterinary pathologist James Barnett, of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, said: “This is probably the most serious net-related injury I have seen in 27 years of working with seals and the level of suffering this animal must have gone through is truly appalling.”
Niki Clear, marine conservation officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, added: “Sadly this is just one of the hundreds of thousands of marine mammals that are killed as a result of entanglement in marine litter every year around the world and this case shows how sickening a sight it really is for those of us who have to deal with this on a regular basis.
“However, incidents like this give us a chance to make a public call for action about the state of our oceans and what anyone can do to help reduce or prevent pollution from getting into the environment and killing more of our wildlife.
“Although it is an incredibly upsetting case, we needed to tell this animal’s story to make sure it didn’t suffer and die for nothing to be done about it.”