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Owners urged to watch out for pets

PUBLISHED: 18:02 28 August 2002 | UPDATED: 12:33 03 March 2010

DOG owners walking their animals on the beaches at Felixstowe are being urged to take extra care because of the deadly seal distemper virus.

The virus - which killed 18,000 common seals when it broke out in 1988 and is expected to again devastate the seal population - can be caught by dogs.

DOG owners walking their animals on the beaches at Felixstowe are being urged to take extra care because of the deadly seal distemper virus.

The virus – which killed 18,000 common seals when it broke out in 1988 and is expected to again devastate the seal population – can be caught by dogs.

Seals live off the Suffolk coast and occasionally do come ashore or very close to land and walkers are being advised to be careful if their dogs run off the lead and investigate objects on the beach.

Young swimmers were delighted last week at Felixstowe to discover a seal playing among them in the water at The Dip, and others have been seen following fishing vessels at Felixstowe Ferry.

Environmental health experts though are now offering cautionary advice to beach walkers because the latest outbreak of the Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) has spread to the seals living close to East Anglia's coastline.

Patricia O'Brien, Suffolk Coastal council cabinet member for health and safety, said: "I would urge anyone who sees a seal in distress to call one of the national hotlines.

"This outbreak is likely to affect Norfolk more than our coastline, as this is not a traditional area for seal colonies. However, this authority is ready to deal with any reported sightings of dead or dying seals.

"This form of distemper can be caught by dogs, so owners should take particular care if they are walking their dogs around coastal areas."

More than 2,000 seals have already died from the latest outbreak in Europe and an RSPCA spokesperson said, "It's unthinkable that many of the common seal populations on the east side of the UK will actually avoid the contamination."

A hotline – 0870 5555 999 – has been set up by the RSPCA for any member of the public who thinks they have seen a sick or dying seal to call.

Drawing on the lessons that have been learned during the last outbreak, DEFRA has helped voluntary organisations prepare for the outbreak of PDV and says it has worked with a network of voluntary organisations to ensure that seals are assessed and appropriately treated.

DEFRA has set up a national helpline on 08712 447999, and advises that callers should be prepared to supply the precise location of the animal, the time and date, and any symptoms that have been observed.

WEBLINKS: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

FAST FACTS

n The last outbreak of PDV in 1988 caused the death of up to 18,000 common seals in Europe – 3,000 on Britain's coasts.

n More than 1,200 have already been found dead on Scandinavian shores this summer.

n PDV is a highly-infectious virus, similar to canine distemper.

n It attacks to seals' immune system, leaving them susceptible to infections such as pneumonia and respiratory problems.

n Stricken animals are usually found contorted, wheezing with pain, or staring listlessly.

n Common seals can be found all around East Anglia's coast and several colonies live on sandbanks off Norfolk.

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