Bubbles & The Seal Whisperer: Stories from the Highland Wildlife Hospital

This film above is made as a tribute to Beatrice Brinkler who ran the Highland Wildlife Hospital in Ullapool for decades. Empathy, compassion, kindness and understanding are the traits of the best of us. Beatrice has all those qualities in spades, especially for her animal friends, be they fluff, feather or fur.

As a highly intuitive person Beatrice connected with animals on an emotional level for she recognised them as individual personalities with intelligence. She was ahead of her time for it is only quite recently that the huge capacity for feeling and intelligence within sea mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals has become widely acknowledged in scientific research.  Otters too.  Some of us may remember Midge in Ring of Bright Water – how could that playful cheeky spirit not be intelligent? Some researchers believe whales have higher social and emotional intelligence than humans and a much greater awareness of their interconnectedness with others within the group. They don’t necessarily act from an point of view which see’s the survival of the individual as the objective, but their behaviour indicates that they believe the whole group matters as much as they do.

When I first met Beatrice it was impossible not to become aware of her big heart and her warmth. In particular it was her bottomless compassion for all the creatures, great and small that have shared her home, even her bed over the years which stood out.

Animals or mammals in the sea have no political voice. In many ways people like Beatrice are their only hope to be able to communicate and share with us that they do feel too. Beatrice has provided a voice for them in the Highlands for four decades but she has been an example more than a spokesperson – for she has often been too busy. She has worked tirelessly often through the night to save animals and spent much of her own money doing so.  A good deal of her work has gone unseen except by those animals that have felt her compassion. Whether one believes in seal culls or not, is not the point here.  She simply connected to an animal in distress with love. Whatever small ball of fluff, fur or feathers were brought to her to rescue, she rarely said no.

Who else would give up days of time unpaid to save a squirrel, or a baby bird that had fallen from a nest? My final dissertation for my Arts degree was focused on exploring what made some of us choose to be kind and others cruel? What made some compete for survival at the expense of others, whilst another person chose to connect and risk all to stand up for others, even if it meant transcending radical differences to help another – even an animal? What was the difference? My essay began with that question but soon began to explore how the capacity for  ’empathy’ differentiated us, and how that capacity can be shut down in some.  Those that operate out of the reptilian-mind or ego self which is purely about personal survival or the survival of the ‘fittest’ make different choices to those who are connected to compassion, who often may spend their lives serving others. The latter always seemed to come from an empathy which replaces the ego’s desire to survive with something much greater and more expansive.   Empathy redeems and connect us and it is her empathy which makes Beatrice special.

Beatrice and Angel 

Recently I brought Angel a juvenile herring gull to her. My sister and her husband found it and it seemed to be appealing for help.  I immediately thought it could be something to do with Beatrice as it seemed to be ‘talking’ to us as if we would listen and understand. It trusted us more than a wild bird would.  I was right, Beatrice had saved it as a tiny defenceless baby.  It had now grown into a boisterous and confident juvenile – as adventurous as any young teenager, curious to go out an explore the wider world.  Demanding attention.  A few days later on an exploration of the Ullapool shoreline it was killed.  It had been appealing to the wrong person. Reports suggest Angel may have been kicked to death and tossed half alive in to the sea.

How different people are. Beatrice will dedicate her life to saving just a small bunch of feathers, shivering and abandoned, whilst others will walk past or kill it without a second thought.  Sometimes it is trauma or learnt behaviour which shuts the capacity for empathy down so it is not so much about judging but recognising it.

Animals know when someone is kind. Sadly Angel was too familiar with only one type of human being to know better. For she had never experienced unkindness. He/She simply trusted that all humans were like Beatrice.

Beatrice has many amazing stories still unshared because her task is never finished. Even when retired and unwell Beatrice has struggled with saying NO when there are knocks on her door or phone calls asking for help. It is hard for her to consider looking after herself as the top priority. I am very grateful for her support and proud to have her warmth, generosity, kindness and knowledge at the heart of Sea Change.  I know others feel the same way. This film was made as a thank you to her for all that she does.

Jeremy Narby spoke about the Anthropocene ( the current geological age named after human beings due to our impact on the planet) recently in a lecture. He said it was unfair to call the age after the entire human species because many humans have not acted destructively towards the planet and he sited many indigenous people.  I would like to add Beatrice to that list of exclusions. For like the indigenous people she sees the animals as our relatives,  for we are indeed all related.