The Irish Seal Sanctuary is calling urgently for volunteers in Donegal to help them rescue and care for distressed seal pups as the peak of this year’s ‘seal season’ approaches.
Chairperson Brendan Price made the appeal after a young seal pup was found stranded in a cave near Portnoo.
“We had a phone call over the weekend from a man who lives in Armagh but was visiting Donegal. While he was out walking, he discovered a young seal stranded in a cave as the tide was coming in.
“Normally we would discourage people who haven’t been properly trained from handling seals or pups but we had no volunteers in the area and he followed our instructions precisely.
“Fortunately, he was able to cover the pup with a blanket and remove it to safety. If he had not done so, there is a strong likelihood that the pup would have been dashed on the rocks with the tide.”
Mr Price explained that, from October to December, there is a swell of seal pup strandings due to the coinciding factors of the Grey Seal birthing season and high storm tides. Young seal pups that are not yet weaned are sometimes washed away from their mothers by storm surges and can end up miles away, often dehydrated, hungry, orphaned and in need of rehabilitation.
He added: “We’re looking for ‘first responder’ volunteers to help us respond when a distressed seal is found in your area. If you think you can help us transport, accommodate or care for seals, please call us on 01 835 4487 or 087 3245423.
“We’re very concerned that unless we can find more volunteers and local communities to help with seal rescue and rehabilitation, seals that might otherwise have been given a second chance will be lost. Some seals have already been lost this season due to a lack of capacity to respond in time.”
Typically, an orphaned seal pup might need rehydration, food and rest for a few weeks until it is fit to be released. Five seals are currently in ‘foster homes’ and the Irish Seal Sanctuary hopes to find more foster homes both here and across the Irish Sea.
Mr Price continued: “Please let us know if you think you can foster a seal, for a season or even a few weeks. You don’t need anything fancy, just a backyard at least 4 by 2 metre in size, some wooden pallets to make an enclosure, some lino, a bathtub and tap, a towel and a few fish.”
The Irish Seal Sanctuary has rehabilitated and released over 800 seals since they began operating in 1986. Every year they respond to over 2000 wildlife distress calls and run educational programmes for schools and community groups throughout Ireland.
Mr Price offers some tips for anyone who has spotted a seal and is not sure if it needs help. “The first thing to remember is safety - keep a safe distance from the seal and keep dogs away as seals can bite. Generally, our advice is to keep an eye on the seal until the next tide as it might just be having a rest. Call us on 01-8354370 if you have any doubts and we can provide more advice and assistance as the situation requires.”
Advice for veterinarians and members of the public is also available at www.irishsealsanctuary.ie.