Message from the Irish Seal Sanctuary Regarding Bull Island

27 Sep 2016

We've been asked by the Clontarf Residents Association to pass on the following public statement from the Irish Seal Sanctuary regarding the Atlantic Seals on Bull island and calling for a temporary ban on dogs on the island.

A Statement from the Irish Seal Sanctuary 

The Irish Seal Sanctuary calls on the public to be vigilant and keep dogs away from seals on Bull island. Bull Island, as part of Dublin bay, is a biosphere reserve and is home to two species of seals. Despite the strongest protection and designation available in law, breeding seals are subject to daily harassment and disturbance, mainly by dogs. To date, this harassment has led seals to abandon their pups prematurely and two newborn pups are known to have died so far.

The Irish Seal Sanctuary calls on Dublin City Council and the National Parks and Wildlife Service for an immediate dog ban on Bull island until 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. The ISS is calling for dog control on Bull Island now and until protection for the seals is in place.

Grey Seals, the World's 1st 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 these photos and video are 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 but has sadly already lost breeding colonies of Terns and Hare. Two newborn, whitecoat, pups from the 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 breed 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 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

For Comment or further info:

Brendan Price 087 3245423

Patrick J Pollock BVMS Cert(ES) FHEA DipECVS MRCVS European and RCVS Recognised Specialist in Equine Surgery 00447901686759

Johnny Woodlock , M.Sc. Env. Science 087 6490533