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First Irish Case of Grey Seal Preying on Harbour Porpoise Is Confirmed

2nd December 2021
A still from the video shot by Andy Smith showing a grey seal with a harbour porpoise calf in its mouth, moments before attempting to drown and feed on it
A still from the video shot by Andy Smith showing a grey seal with a harbour porpoise calf in its mouth, moments before attempting to drown and feed on it

The first case of a grey seal predation on a harbour porpoise in Irish waters has been confirmed, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says.

Video of the incident off Clogherhead in Co Louth on Sunday 14 November was submitted to the marine wildlife charity. It appears to show an adult grey seal with a porpoise calf in its mouth and attempting to drown its victim before feeding on it.

Sightings officer Pádraig Whooley said there was “little doubt” as to what was occurring in the footage, which can be seen below. Some viewers may find the video disturbing:

Andy Smith, who was fishing on the pier in Clogherhead when he shot the video, said: “We initially saw the mother and baby about 200m out to sea but about 20 minutes later the seal surfaced with the baby porpoise in its mouth.

“It was quite violent and bloody. Thankfully there were no kids around to witness it. Nature raw in tooth and claw I suppose.”

Whooley added that the incident, while rare, is not without precedent. A paper published in the journal Marine Mammal Science in 2014 offered the first evidence of grey seal predation on harbour porpoise in the English Channel and North Sea.

“However, this behaviour has never before been documented in Irish waters, which is surprising given the large populations we have of both coastal species,” he said.

The incident now opens questions as to whether this is indeed new behaviour from an Irish seal “or one that has simply never before been witnessed or recorded in Ireland”.

In addition, it is not confirmed whether the seal in the video is from an Irish resident population or one that travelled here from the North Sea area.

Whooley also posits: “What are the likely implications at population level for the resident harbour porpoises of Clogherhead and beyond? Especially given that areas like north Co Dublin have some of the highest densities of porpoises in Irish waters.”

Published in Marine Wildlife
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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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