Seal season: how to respect seal pups on our beaches this summer

Published by Charline Fernandez on

July 22nd, 2018

Summer is the season when the common seal gives birth to its pups on the Irish coastlines, bringing curious tourists to our beaches to see this joyous event.

However, our inquisitive and nosy nature may be causing more harm than we think and can frighten away the nursing mothers, leaving the pups stranded on the golden sands.

It is estimated that only 50 per cent of common seals survive past their first year. The common seal is now a priority species in Ireland as their numbers have been slowly declining.

Abandonment is identified as one of the main reasons for this, such as in the case of Wilbert, a young grey seal observed on an Irish beach a few years ago.

Well-meaning people on the beach tried to get him back into the water without realising that they may actually be harassing him – grey seals spend time on the beach when adults hunt – and scaring away his mother.

“The mother abandoned him and he ended up passing away,” according to Melanie Croce, the Operations Manager at the Seal Rescue Ireland.

“By the time he got to us, he was just too far deteriorated and too young to have gone that long without eating,” she adds. “He was a good example of why it is so important to keep your distance.”

Keeping your distance is important as the seals can be easily spooked, says Croce. The mothers could see their puppies as “a lost cause” after human interaction with them, she adds.

“The mother might think that the puppy is injured from the contact with humans or she might be scared that she could get hurt if she comes out of the water and approaches her puppy with the humans nearby,” Croce explains.

Unleashed dogs are also a threat to seals as dogs can attack the marine mammals easily as they move slowly on land. “If they are any other member of the public who is approaching the seals, it is a good idea to tell them to stay back. It is illegal to harass seals,” says Croce

Saved and released

The Seal Rescue Ireland centre in Co Wexford takes care of the orphaned seals as their “biological condition deteriorates very quickly”.

Several releases took place this weekend during the Summer Sand Sculpture festival in Co Wexford, with three common seals released back into their natural habitat in Courtown, for example. The seals were injured and separated from their mother and injured during heavy winter storms.

“We wanted to give them an extra time to recover from their injuries to increase the chances of their survival in the wild,” explains Croce. “They are now nice, big and healthy. Their injuries have become healed. They are ready to go.”

If you see a puppy in distress, it is recommended to stay at least at 200 meters away and to call Seal Rescue Ireland’s 24 hours operational rescue hotline at 087 195 5393. A photo of the animal will also help the centre to determine its condition and if it needs to be rescued.

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Charline Fernandez

Charline is French and an MA journalism student at DCU. She has an interest in the environment, animals rights and rock music.