Seal deaths ‘natural’ but concerns remain

Seal advocates were alarmed by the recent discovery of seven dead grey seals and one dead dolphin at Tramore Beach in Rosbeg and nearby Narin Strand.

Seal advocates were alarmed by the recent discovery of seven dead grey seals and one dead dolphin at Tramore Beach in Rosbeg and nearby Narin Strand.

But a National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger said yesterday she believes they likely died of natural causes.

Pauline Beades, PRO of the Irish Seal Sanctuary, said the discovery in Donegal was among the latest in a series of reports of what she called strange seal deaths around the country, including a report the sanctuary received on Tuesday of two adult seals and a pup found dead on a Waterford beach.

“You might find one dead animal on a beach – one old seal gets washed up,” Ms. Beades said. “You don’t find three, four, five animals dead on a beach. I would be very concerned that this is not a normal occurrence.”

But Emer Magee, conservation ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, confirmed yesterday evening that the three dead seals she observed yesterday on Tramore had not been shot. The ranger believed they died of natural causes. She said the beaches are across the bay from Slieve Tooey, a habitat that draws about 300 seals.

“All seals are having their young at the moment and there’s going to be a natural loss when there are high tides and rough seas,” Ms. Magee said.

It is a criminal offence to interfere with grey seals, a protected species.

A Coast Guard unit from Malin Head station was at the beaches on Tuesday, called in response to the numbers discovered. Denis Moloney, station officer of Malin Head, confirmed that there were six dead seals and a dead dolphin on Tramore and one dead seal on Narin.

There is a good population of grey seals in Donegal, the Ms. Beades said. “You will always get people who suggest seals are a nuisance, but they’re very much in the minority,” she said.

Ms. Beades said grey seals are now having their young, and after the mother has her pup on the beach, she returns to the water, coming back to feed the pup.

“We would certainly ask anybody out there to keep an eye out for these pups and to inform the gardaí or inform national parks and wildlife if they feel anything is not right in the area,” Ms. Beades said.

Ms. Magee did not yet know whether the service would carry out a post-mortem, but she encouraged people to continue to report these discoveries. The thocine distemper virus caused the death of seals in the past. “If other seals were to start turning up dead on the shore, it might be a sign they’re carrying this distemper,” Ms. Magee said.