As we are now in the common seal pupping season it is a perfect opportunity to inform the general public on what’s been happening with our seal sanctuary since re-opening.
Rehabilitation care and veterinary assistance was provided to over 30 seals during the 2016/2017 seal season with 11 Common Seals (Phoca vitulina) and 11 Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) being released back into Strangford Lough. Overall the season was a success with a high volume of seal calls coming through to our hotline over the two distinct pupping seasons.
At this time of the year, our Common seals, despite their name, are considered to be decreasing in abundance possibly owing to: reduced fish stocks, disease and human interference. We currently operate the seal sanctuary with the support of DAERA, and provide a 24 hour service provided by our seal team to ensure the welfare and rehabilitation of both common and grey seals around our coastlines throughout the two distinctive pupping seasons.
All seal calls are recorded and logged onto our database, our seal team will visit the reported site or ask for photos or videos to be send to Exploris for assessment of each seal and then decide the necessary course of action. Even when we assess a seal in the field as being healthy we continue to monitor its progress for a period of time. We also work closely with marine rangers across the Northern Irish coastline to ensure seal pups that require assistance receive immediate attention and this connection also allows us to share information and monitor seal pups at multiple haul out locations.
Seals do not spend their entire time in the sea, the majority of seals observed are hauled out resting and perfectly healthy and we would recommend that if you encounter a seal in the coming weeks and months, you follow the guidelines below as seal pups have a painful bite and carry a range of zoonotic diseases that humans and dogs are susceptible to.
- Do not attempt to move/feed or interfere with a seal pup, they are a protected species and are hauled out resting. Keep all dog walkers away and ensure other walkers are made aware so they do not disturb it.
- Observe the seal from a distance (10 metres at least), can you see any obvious trauma? breathing difficulties? does it appear to be underweight?
- How long as the seal pup been there? Is the mother in close proximity?
- If you are concerned about the health of the seal pup call Exploris immediately.
- Take a photograph or video, these are extremely helpful and allow us to preliminary assess the health, body condition, size and age of a seal pup.
Our seals are protected species under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Order 1985 and the EU habitats Directive, in Northern Ireland it is a criminal offence to intentionally, or recklessly interfere with a seal at a haul out site. Their populations are at risk from disease, pollution and anthropogenic disturbance particularly during the breeding season.
Sightings of seal pups hauled out on our coastlines are common during the distinguished pupping seasons. Common seal season ranges between June and late August, and Grey seal season ranges between October and late December. Key distinctions between the two species are that common seals are smaller in size compared to grey seals with a more rounded head and shortened muzzle whereas grey seals are significantly larger in size with elongated muzzles and distinct separation of the nostrils.
You can contact Exploris in a number of ways:-
Phone: 028 4272 8062
On a lighter note, we know that our seals are such a popular reason for the general public to visit and this year we are offering the opportunity to name the first five common seal pups that arrive into us for help so check out our social media on how to get involved. Our 2017/18 theme is favourite contributors to science/our natural world. The named individuals may be marine biologists, nature/tv presenters, pioneering scientists or taxonomists. All you have to do is let us know your suggested name and the reason why you feel our seal pup deserves such an honorary title. Check out our Facebook for more information.
— Love Belfast ❤️ (@love_belfast) May 17, 2017