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.
People and dogs are asked to maintain a distance of 100m 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.
Disturbance 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 Seal Rescue Ireland (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. For more information: www.sealrescueireland.org and Seal Rescue Hotline T: 087 1955393