This week I visited the Cornish Seal Sanctuary for the first time - tucked away at the top of the creek on the Helford River, this is the perfect place to visit in the winter when it's super quiet but the seals are still on show! The work of the sanctuary doesn't shut down out of season.
As a registered charity, the sanctuary has clear aims to rescue and provide expert care for sick, injured, or distressed seals, hopefully healing them back to full health so that they can be released into the wild.
For some animals who need lifetime care, the site at Gweek becomes their 'forever home' where they stay and help to educate and inspire visitors of all ages.
As you can see from the picture, the seal sanctuary is totally dog-friendly and there is a good amount of walking involved around the spacious site. You can get really up-close to the pools and the seals seem animated and interested rather than scared by their admirers! Probably something to do with the humans carrying fish buckets who come round at feeding time...
It's been a really long time since I've visited any centres like this with animals in enclosures, because the idea of a 'zoo' feels pretty uncomfortable to me. However, at the sanctuary there is such a focus on short-term rehabilitation and release that it was inspiring to see. (All of the animals who are at the centre permanently have long-term health conditions which mean that they wouldn't survive in the wild.)
The different seal habitats aren't done up all shiny for show and performance; there are even notices to explain that the water purposely isn't too clear because that isn't how the animals would experience it in their natural environment. Every few days the pools are emptied and refilled with river water from the Helford, which you can see as the perfect backdrop to the site at Gweek.
It's also really nicely laid out in a way that shows the journey from 'Seal Hospital' where injured animals (mostly pups) come in, and then you walk down to the Nursery Pools, Rehabilitation Pools, Convalescence Pool and then on to the forever homes of the Sea Lions and Penguins (a slightly random addition...) and then the 'Secret Creek' where a new project is reintroducing beavers into the ancient Cornish woodland!
There are daily talks and feeding times which are fun to watch as the seals are at their most animated and hop in and out of the water - some of the longer term residents practicing commands and building bonds with the keepers.
You can also keep up to date with rescues and releases on the website, and find all the information about how to 'adopt' and support the sanctuary.
Your ticket (£16.50 for an adult) once purchased is valid for a full 12 months so I will definitely be going back again, and it's a great place to take visiting friends and family if the weather is good. There is a small cafe which was only doing outside seating when I visited but I had an amazing hot chocolate with the most sprinkles I have ever seen in my life (definitely a highlight). They also had caked from Exploding Bakery (an Exeter fave and popular supplier to cafes in Cornwall) and I think did light lunches as well.
Have fun if you visit, and let me know what you think!