Pat Kenny Show Vet podcast: seal rescue in Ireland plus questions from listeners

A seal pup was rescued on a Bray beach this week

Last Tuesday, I received a call from Seal Rescue Ireland: a baby seal had been found washed up on a Bray beach ,injured and wedged between rocks. The tide was coming in: she needed to be rescued urgently. I went out myself, picked her up and checked her out, then handed her on to two volunteers who drove her down to Seal Rescue Ireland in Courtown for further care. You can see her in the photo above: she had a nasty graze on her shoulder. She’s been named Alice, and we’re hoping that she’ll do well, eventually being released back into the sea from the same Bray beach.

Seal Rescue Ireland is a not-for-profit charity that works around the clock with a team of eighteen hard working resident volunteers to care for Grey and Common Seals from around the coast of Ireland. They care for around 60-80 seal pups every year: they to rehabilitate the pups back to full health and then return them to the wild.

They rely entirely on public donations to fund their work. The centre in Courtown is open daily for visitors to see the rehabilitation work first hand and meet the seals in care. The volunteers offer guided tours of the facility, explaining the rehabilitation process, and telling the stories about each individual animal. Right now, there are 45 seal pups in residence. As well as being a dedicated seal rescue centre, the facility at Courtown is set up for the visiting public, with a gift shop, bathrooms and education area.

As well as the resident interns, Seal Rescue Ireland depends on volunteers around the country to act as an active network to help injured and sick seals. Volunteers can go on one-day courses at their Courtown centre to learn how to pick seals up and handle them safely. Seals are wild animals and it’s natural for them to try to defend themselves from humans. Even young seals can give a nasty bite if not handled carefully.  It’s important to realise that not every washed-up seal pup needs to be rescued: sometimes volunteers are asked to keep an eye on a pup, to make sure that its mother is still around.

Seal Rescue Ireland has trained volunteers on the phone line, so that the network of helpers on the ground can be kept advised on how best to proceed. Simple methods- like sending Whatsapp images of seals that have been found – make it easier to share information.

What to do if you find a small seal on the beach

Seals are well adapted for spending time on land and at different times of the year often come ashore for rest, mating, pupping and nursing. Depending on the circumstances it’s normal for seals to be alone on the shore. However, it is not normal for a seal pup to be alone for long periods of time, and they often need help.

Here are some tips from Seal Rescue Ireland for people who find seal pups on the beach

  1. Do not attempt to put back into the water. As tempting as it may seem, the seal is out of the water for a reason. There may be a mother nursing the pup who is in the water and will return later. Grey seal pups have a white fur coat which can become waterlogged and therefore they normally stay ashore for the first 3 weeks until they moult. If the pup is orphaned, sick, or injured putting it back in the water may  kill it.
  2. Observe from a distance. Seal pups are often unafraid of people and will not attempt to move into the water if approached. The seal’s mother, however, will not return to retrieve or feed her pup if humans are present. Human disturbance can result in the mother abandoning her pup. Keep your distance and keep dogs and children away from it.
  3. Do not touch. Seals are wild animals and they WILL bite! Not only is a bite painful, but it can also carry infectious diseases. The mother may also reject the pup if it is handled as its scent will be different once handled.
  4. Do not ignore the situation 

If there is a problem with a seal, there are a number of things you may see:

  1. Abandoned: If you see a seal with a white, fluffy coat in the autumn/winter, or you see a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal.
  2. Thin: Signs of malnutrition include visible ribs, hips and neck and perhaps baggy and wrinkled skin.
  3. Sick: Signs of ill health include : coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and ‘hunch along’ on their sides) cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time. Any seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it is probably unwell and in need of help.
  4. Even healthy looking pups may need assistance if they have been separated from their mother in a bad storm or if they have ventured into a dangerous situation (eg. on to a road). Sometimes first time mothers may give birth during the night and by day the beach is heavily populated with people and dogs and she will be frightened away and abandon the pup.

    If you find a seal matching any of these descriptions or even if you are unsure, PLEASE contact Seal Rescue Ireland.

  • Daytime: 0539424980

  • 24/7 Emergency: 087 1955 393

You will receive further advice over the phone. If there is a problem with the animal, there are some important things you can do to help:

  • Provide information: Give us an accurate description of the seal and its exact location on beach, beach name, nearest town, county, tidal conditions etc.
  • If at all possible, stay on the beach to guide the rescue team to the animal. This can save valuable and perhaps critical time.
  • If you have a mobile, give the number to the volunteer.
  • Control disturbance: Stop other people and their animals from approaching the seal.
  • Prevent small seals from entering the sea: stand between a pup and the sea.
  • Under no circumstances allow anybody to push the seal back in the sea.

Questions from Newstalk listeners

  1. I have a problem with my one year old dog who dislikes travelling in the car, yawning, licking her lips, and shaking. Should I keep trying to bring her for short trips or will she always be like this?
  2. My male 7 year old cat throws up a lot, usually after eating. Should I be worried
  3. Our lovely bitch has just had 8 pups. We seem to have homes for them but want to keep one. Is it preferable to keep another bitch or a boy. We also have an older male terrier.
  4. Our dog eats dry food, and then goes out and eats grass. If we give him chicken, he does not eat grass. Why is this?
  5. A feral cat who we adopted a few years ago has gone missing for three weeks. What could have happened to her?

To find out the answers to the questions, and to learn more about seal rescue in Ireland, listen to the podcast below.


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