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Unusual Seal Surprises In West Cork Among New Year Coastal Sightings

3rd January 2020
Hooded seal spotted in Toormore Bay on New Year’s Day Hooded seal spotted in Toormore Bay on New Year’s Day Photo: Helen Tilson

A seal rarely sighted in Irish waters was among the first sightings of the New Year by eagle-eyed supporters of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The hooded seal was spotted by Helen Tilson of Schull Sea Safari on the mudflats at Toormore Bay in West Cork on New Year’s Day, and represents only the fourth or fifth Irish record for the Arctic marine wildlife species.

Video recorded by Tilson of the animal “removed any doubt” it was a a hooded seal “as it shows the nasal sac starting to balloon as she approached it, and it made a growling roar, the likes of which I’ve never heard from one of our grey seal bulls”, according to IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

It’s believed this particular seal is a sub-adult male “in rather thin condition”, which is to be expected as it is so far south of its usual range.

Cuvier’s beaked whale carcass in Clonakilty Bay on 21 December (Photo: Grace Keane O’Connor)Cuvier’s beaked whale carcass in Clonakilty Bay on 21 December | Photo: Grace Keane O’Connor

Meanwhile, reports of four stranded Cuvier’s beaked whale carcasses within 12 days and 70km of each other in December have prompted fears of a new mass stranding event for the deep water species.

The IWDG’s Mick O’Connell said all four were recorded along the Cork coast, beginning in Tragumna (16 December) and followed by Castlepoint in Roaringwater Bay (17 Dec), Lislevane in Clonakilty (21 Dec) and offshore at Galley Head (27 Dec).

“For the third time in five years we are looking at an unusual mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales on the Irish coast, likely caused by a single event at sea,” he said.

But the situation as yet defies explanation. “Without specialised post-mortem of very freshly dead animals … we can’t even establish cause of death,” O’Donnell added.

Published in Marine Wildlife
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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