A distressing matter

Michael Watson's Image

A young grey seal cries out in pain as lengths of plastic fishing rope cut deeper into its body.

Michael was photographing a seal colony along the Lincolnshire beach when he heard the agonising screams of the seal. The unlucky animal probably became entangled in this rope when it was just a pup, and it has cut deeper and deeper into its body as it grew.

Michael says, 'The suffering and pain can be seen on its face as it screams in pain.'

He and two other photographers quickly called the local Wildlife Trust and Seal Sanctuary to free the seal and treat its wounds so that it could be released safely.

The Donna Nook National Nature Reserve on the Lincolnshire coast in the UK is a major breeding colony, with more than 2,000 pups born every year.

Cases like this are becoming increasingly common around the world as discarded fishing gear, including rope, nets and traps fill the oceans, entangling marine life such as whales and turtles.

How you can help

  • If you see any marine life caught up in plastic waste, call the local wildlife trust or other nature organisation and alert them to the situation.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic that you use. While most plastic in the ocean is discarded fishing gear, household items such as toothbrushes and plastic razors also contribute.
  • Participate in a beach clean-up to help remove plastic from the ocean before it can cause harm to marine life.

We are trialling longer online captions for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 57. See all the images in focus or find out more about our tests.

Behind the lens

Michael is an amateur wildlife and landscape photographer based in northeast England. He photographs wildlife across the UK and Europe and specialises in seals. Photography has been his hobby for around eight years. His time away indulging in this - sitting in the landscapes and learning the behaviour of animals - provides great stress relief from his job in social care.

Image details

  • Canon EOS-1D X Mark I
  • 500mm f4 lens
  • + 1.4x extender 1/320 sec at f10 (+1.67 e/v)  •   ISO 1000 Gitzo tripod + Wimberley head
  • Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, UK
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