Now that we are through the major work on the house we will be exploring the local area in more detail. Both of us were brought up by the sea, and on our travels around the world, we have seen some incredible wildlife. We were therefore delighted to find that there is an opportunity to see Irish marine wildlife up very close and personal on our doorstep.
Last Sunday we visited the Seal Rescue Ireland centre just off Courtown Harbour. We had heard that the centre was in desperate need of towels; as these are used continously in the care of the seal pups that are rescued from all around Ireland. We had wrapped all our china and glass in 36 years of an accumulated collection of towels during our recent move, and rather than throw the older and slightly tatty ones away; we were delighted to put them to a very important use.
We were lucky enough to enjoy the benefit of a guided tour of the centre accompanied by Mel Robinson who is Director of Animal Care, and it was a real eye-opener for us both.
First however I have to share this picture of my name-sake.. Sally is a bit of a comedian and full of mischief… must be something to do with the name!
Around our rocky coastline in the north, southeast and also on the west coast, there are two varieties of seal in substantial numbers.
The Grey Seals found around our shores are part of the eastern Atlantic group which also includes the much smaller Baltic Sea group. This eastern Atlantic group is the largest of the seal populations at around 125,000, and individual seals can range as far south as Spain and Portugal. It is believed that there have been seals in Irish coastal waters for over 7000 years although there have been times when the population has been decimated because of their main predator. Man.
Common Seals belong to a larger population of between 350,000 to 500,000 worldwide and they are distributed around temperate, sub-arctic and arctic coastal areas throughout both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They generally have their pups in the summer months of June and July but sometimes they can overlap with early Grey Seals.
On our tour of the kennels, where the new pups are cared for initially, it was clear to see that there are a number of hazards that these very young babies are faced with. Two new seals had been brought in and one of which was only a week or so old. Very thin and had clearly been abandoned long before the normal three to four weeks when they are weaned. Thankfully the pup had been spotted and rescued and brought across from the west coast to be cared for. It was now in intensive care under a heat lamp and being monitored very closely.
Another seal was a normal size for his age and appeared to have no physical injury, but he was rescued by a passer-by from drowning. Sleepy, as he has been named, was unconscious and was being kept warm and dry in his kennel with hopes that he might recover on his own without any intervention.. News from the centre today is that he is doing very well much to the relief of everyone there I am sure.
At the moment the centre is working around the clock to care for 46 seals and whilst you might think this just involves throwing some fish into the kennels or perhaps giving a very young pup a bottle of seal formula.. you could not be more wrong.
Infection is a real concern as all seals carry a virus called sealpox which can develop into a full blown condition, when the pups are undernourished and stressed. This means that when a pup arrives in with the tell tale pustules on their face and bodies, it has to be kept in isolation away from all the other seals. All the kennels have to be kept meticulously clean with bleach and brushes wielded by volunteers wearing protective boots and leggings. These are essential, not only as a protection from the cleaning products, but because certain pups take great exception to intrusion into their space.
The dedicated volunteers.
There is little time for a break for the volunteers, who do not only come from the local area, but internationally too on internships for six months. Mel Robinson for example has a full-time job in Belfast and travels down every Friday to spend the weekend working with the animals but also dealing with the intricacies of managing staffing levels, animal care, funding to keep the centre open and developing new educational programmes.
Find out how you can join this special team: http://www.sealrescueireland.org/volunteers/
Their dedication is awe inspiring but they do need our help in a number of very important ways. First and foremost in recognising when a seal pup is in fact in need of rescue, as there are certain natural circumstances when a pup might well be left alone for several hours.
Here is the guidelines to follow if you find a pup that might be in danger. Very important year round but particularly at the moment in the middle of the Grey Seal season.
- Do not put the seal in the water. (Injured, sick & newborn pups are on land for a reason)
- Do not disturb them – Observe from a distance.
- Do not touch pups (these animals can bite, and human presence may lead to mothers abandoning otherwise healthy pups)
- Keep dogs and children away.
- Take photos! (They help us determine the condition of an animal immediately, and if necessary a rescue can be organised promptly.)
- Grey seal pups have white fur for the first 3 weeks of life and tend to stay on land until they moult to their spotted coat. During this time the mother will leave them for hours at a time alone on the beach. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily abandoned!
Contact the centre for advice! If the pup is on its own with no mum in sight; obviously injured; or if unsure please ring Seal Rescue Ireland on 087 1955 393
We moved from the kennels housing the latest arrivals to the three pools holding recovering and pre-release pups. The first is for the babies who are now eating fish and able to swim and play together. They can climb out of the water onto the sides of the shallow pool and they are easily monitored by the staff as they work in the kennels.
The second pool contains slightly older pups who are obviously getting more active and enjoying playing with each other, diving down to the bottom and like Sally taking turns with various floating toys. A great way to learn about swimming and play when released.
The third pool is away from the public behind a wooden fence and contains the pups who are almost ready for release.They are fully recovered from any injuries or infection and are now at the correct weight to enable them to begin their independent life at sea.
They may have spent a number of weeks surrounded by humans and they need to be dehumanised before returning to the wild. They only see the volunteers at feeding time and every other day when all the pools are drained and scrubbed out to prevent infection.
How can we enable these amazing volunteers to keep up with the constant demand for their care and expertise?
There are a number of programmes in place that you can sign up for that guarantees a steady income to fund the centre. From sponsorship from local and national business, individual membership options from 5 Euro a month and an adopt a seal scheme.
Of course money is vital to fund this operation. Despite the dedication of the volunteers, who give up their time freely, there is a constant requirement for seal formula for the young babies, fish for the older pups and treatment and medication costs. With rescues needed around the various seal populations along the Irish coast, there is a cost for every intervention and release. The above breakdown is due to be updated with the annual costs likely to be much higher. The Irish government does provide an annual grant but the over 80% of the funds are raised through sponsorship and public donations.
Money is always welcome but there are some items that we all have in our homes that the centre would love us to donate. It was great for us to see our bags of towels immediately put to use, as they are needed in all the kennels, get soiled very quickly and have to be washed constantly.
If you live locally here are a few items that will be gratefully received. Towels (desperate) bleach, scrubbing brushes and brooms and buckets. The three pools have to be emptied every couple of days and thoroughly scrubbed out and then refilled. There is a need for more pumps and a high pressure hose for cleaning which would make this labour intensive job much easier. Have you ever tried to wash and dry 30 to 40 towels a day? The centre’s one tumble dryer is working around the clock to try and keep up.
If you have time, volunteers are needed in most areas of the operation from animal care to fundraising.
You will find more information on how you can help here:
This is a wonderful place for the young to see nature in a secure and informative environment. Here they can learn how they can help preserve Ireland’s seal population and as they grown older develop a respect for the gift of wildlife. They will of course see young seals that are injured or sick but they will also see pups who are fully recovered, thanks to the care they have received; playing in the pools along with mischievous Sally!
The centre runs a number of educational programmes for schools, groups and children’s birthday parties with a definite Seal theme!
An asset for the local area.
Currently the centre is the only seal rescue operation in Ireland and it is accessible via the new motorway link with Dublin; just over an hour away. It is a very important asset for the area, particular as Courtown is a holiday resort and dependent on visitor numbers, not just in the summer months but all year round. There is no charge to view the seals but it is hoped that people will perhaps buy something from the giftshop or perhaps make a donation. But there are other businesses such as the leisure centre and local food and beverage businesses, who also benefit from increased visitor numbers.
My impression after spending an hour at the centre, is that there is clearly an urgent need for the organisation, and when you see a baby seal struggling to breathe, move and is painfully thin you cannot but admire the effort that goes into saving its life.
We are bombarded with messages daily about the devastating effects of man on wildlife habitat and how many species are becoming extinct. It can be overwhelming and we wonder how we can possibly make a difference.. But as you will see if you visit and support Seal Rescue Ireland you can make a difference in a very positive and satisfying way.
How to get there
To find the centre take exit 23 off the M11 motorway from Dublin or Wexford signposted for Courtown. When you get to Courtown follow the signs for the Leisure Centre and go through to the swimming pool. Park up and then enter the gate to the right of the pool signposted Seal Rescue.. go into reception and the gift shop and you can enter the seal enclosures from there.
Don’t forget to take a towel or two with you…. you may even see it in use during your visit as we did.
Connect and follow Seal Rescue Ireland:
Other sources: http://www.conserveireland.com/mammals/grey_seal.php
I know that some of you do not live in Ireland but I hope it has inspired you to find a local conservation project that will make a difference where you live.
Thanks for dropping in and your feedback is always welcome.. Sally
Photographs © Seal Rescue Ireland and David Cronin