Wicklow County Council is urging the public and particularly dog owners to be mindful of disturbing seals when they visit the coast this autumn.
September to December is a particularly important time for grey seals as it is the breeding season during which time the adults seek safe sites to “haul out” on land.
These are typically sheltered beach areas where the animals return year after year to breed, rest, moult and engage in social activity.
In the coming weeks seals will give birth to a single pup which is born with a white coat and does not swim. Mothers will stay close to their pup for a number of weeks until it is weaned, during which time the animals are very vulnerable to disturbance by humans and dogs.
Seal rescue Ireland (SRI) recommends that people and dogs stay at least 100 meters or more from seals that are “hauled out” as coming close to them will cause stress and could cause a stampede possibly leading to injury, drowning or death to small pups in particular.
This can also lead to the abandonment of pups as mothers who are spooked by human contact will often not return for them. Orphaned pups have very little chance for survival and often SRI must intervene by bringing a seal into rehabilitation whereas without human disturbance the pup would have been successfully cared for and weaned in the wild.
It is important to note that “disturbance” includes any deviation from normal behaviour and even seals who become alert due to humans at a great distance are exposed to dangers from stress, waste of energy, loss of rest, and potential loss of feeding/mating/nursing or evasion of predator opportunities.
“Most ‘haul out’ sites along the East coast of Ireland have public access”, explained Deirdre Burns, Heritage Officer, Wicklow County Council, “Therefore the behaviour of people visiting the coast is hugely important. The Municipal Districts of Wicklow and Greystones are working in tandem with Seal Rescue Ireland to raise public awareness of this issue by erecting information signs at known ‘haul out’ sites and restricting access to these areas as required.”
She added: “Our natural world is under increasing pressure from human influence and the Council is pleading with beach users to act responsibly.’”
Seals are legally protected under the Wildlife Act and it is illegal and dangerous to approach them or to allow dogs to do so. Grey seal mums will normally leave their pups alone on the beach for extended periods of time while they go off and hunt and will return to their pups to nurse. Just because a seal pup is observed alone on the beach does not necessarily mean the pup has been orphaned.
For any questions or concerns, the public is welcome to contact the SRI 24 hour hotline on 087 1955393 so that the team can assess and monitor the situation to determine if rescue is required. For more see www.sealrescueireland.org
Councillor Mary Kavanagh welcomed the news saying she is “Delighted that the Wicklow Municipal District Council, working alongside Seal Rescue Ireland, are currently having signs printed and they will be placed along the Glen Beach cliff walk to warn walkers of the dangers of interfering with seal mothers and their pups. I’m also asking that dogs be kept on leads and away from the beach. The council also proposes roping off the beach area during the crucial weeks after the seal pups are born and lie on the beach (for around 6 weeks after birth). This should ensure that the seal colony gets minimum outside interference and can live there safely.
Well done to the council and to the hundreds of people who shared my post on Social Media to get the word out to keep dogs under control and to avoid the beach at Bride’s Head during the seal breeding season.”