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Trapped gannet freed from cruise ship after two days as a stowaway

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 13/08/2016

Debbie Nelson rescuing a gannet that had become stuck after hitching a ride on the Rotterdam cruise ship, which travelled from Dublin to Belfast
Debbie Nelson rescuing a gannet that had become stuck after hitching a ride on the Rotterdam cruise ship, which travelled from Dublin to Belfast
Debbie Nelson rescuing a gannet that had become stuck after hitching a ride on the Rotterdam cruise ship, which travelled from Dublin to Belfast
Debbie Nelson rescuing a gannet that had become stuck after hitching a ride on the Rotterdam cruise ship, which travelled from Dublin to Belfast
Debbie Nelson rescuing a gannet that had become stuck after hitching a ride on the Rotterdam cruise ship, which travelled from Dublin to Belfast

This seabird got a free two-day cruise from Dublin to Belfast until a wildlife rescuer set him free.

Debbie Nelson got a call on Thursday morning from the local harbour police saying that a gannet was on the deck of the Rotterdam cruise ship.

"This was the first time I've been called to a cruise ship," said the animal lover, who runs Debbie Doolittle's Wild Life, a rescue centre near Antrim.

She receives anywhere from 10 to 50 calls or messages a day from people concerned about wildlife, and has already rescued more than 1,000 animals from danger this year.

"You get calls for all sorts of strange things," Debbie explained. (But the gannet on the deck of the cruise ship was) the most unusual one of the year."

The ship's crew first noticed the bird in Dublin, but thought it would free itself. The next day, when they stopped at the Isle of Man, it was still there, having spent two days on the ship.

"The crew looked out for it," Debbie said. They even put out cookies for it to eat, although it would have preferred fish.

When the ship arrived in Belfast, the crew called the harbour police, who called in Debbie.

"Gannets can be quite aggressive birds," she said. "They can try to injure people."

But for the animal rescuer, it was a straightforward operation because she had the right experience and equipment.

The gannet was not injured, and once it was lifted over the edge of the ship it swam away.

Most of the rescues the centre makes are carried out by Debbie. She has some volunteers with enough experience to help her if she is desperate, but she mostly works alone."Ninety-five percent (of the time) I'm by myself," she said. "It's very busy."

Debbie spends up to 18 hours a day making rescues and feeding and cleaning at the centre.

"It's worth it to see the creatures fixed and going back to the wild where they belong," she said.

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