The Irish Seal sanctuary (ISS) is calling on the public to be vigilant and keep dogs away from seals on Bull Island. Bull Island and Dublin Bay is a biosphere reserve unique to the capital city and is home to both species of seals. Despite the strongest protection and designation available in law, breeding seals are subject to daily harrassment and disturbance, mainly by dogs. To date this harrassement has led seals to abandon their pups prematurely and two newborn pups are known to have died so far.
The ISS is calling on Dublin City Council (DCC) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for an immediate dog ban on Bull Island untill the completion of the seal breeding.
Authorities are promising consultation, signage, trained voluntary guides and dog walking zones. This is all most welcome, however the seals are vulnerable now and if this level of harassment continues may disappear from the island. Several notable species, including terns and hares have already been lost, says ISS spokesman Brendan Price.
Grey Seals, the world's first protected species, residents of Dublin Bay and ubiquitous around the Irish coast are breeding now and during this time are very vulnerable to disturbance. Female seals require quiet shore space and breeding beaches to give birth. Thereafter females nurse their pups ashore for about 3 weeks. This is a period of the seal lifecycle that can only happen on land and while fascinating to watch, the golden rule is to observe from a distance.
Around the Irish coastline, this great wildlife spectacle is enjoyed and progresses undisturbed, however areas such as Bull Island are under increasing pressure from dogs and some walkers.
It is a great tribute to sensitive walkers and dog walkers, who avoid disturbance and some colonies are known to survive close to human habitation. Nevertheless evidence suggests that it only takes a few disturbances to drive seals away.
Bull Island, where the above photo is taken, is an especially sensitive area, unique also as host to both species of Irish seals, hauling out, feeding and breeding within the boundaries of the Capital city.
The Island a UNESCO Biosphere of long standing, now extended to the boundaries of Dublin Bay has sadly already lost breeding colonies of Terns and Hare. Two newborn, whitecoat, pups from island have died within the last month and post mortem analysis at the School of Veterinary Medicine, UCD, suggests abandonment and predation as the cause of death.
The DCC in response to these records is discussing improved signage, zonation, voluntary island guides etc., however in the meantime the seals remain vulnerable, the rangers and island are under resourced and the threat of losing this remarkable colony remains high.
The Bull Island is a stark but not unique case with Bailey and Doldrum Bay, outside Howth, abandoned by seals almost 100 years ago. These areas are still host to occasional pups, and walkers have recently been observed climbing down to a pup to take pictures and in another incident, misguidedly, throwing a pup into the water. Limekiln Bay and Brittas Bay have very vulnerable mothers birthing in the path of walkers and the pattern repeats coastwide.
The common seals, which bred earlier, are less vulnerable to threats from land as pups take to water on tide. Nevertheless, recreational users should be aware of their presence as these pups get separated from mothers by power boats, jet skis etc.
Litter, debris, waste can cause horrific injuries and usually result in death before affected animals can be caught and given veterinary help.
The message for today, according to Price, is do not disturb resting seals and do not create seal orphans (the endearing whitecoats) for rehabilitation when seal mothers can do a far superior job of nursing and rearing.