Home free -- final wave as rescued seal returns to the ocean
SHE was rescued when she was a newborn pup, but she took to the open ocean again like a seal to water.
Lena, a grey seal, took her first tentative steps back into the Atlantic from Cuan Pier in Ventry, Co Kerry, three months after she had been discovered by three brothers on nearby Clogher Strand.
Her survival was touch and go for a while. Being so young and having being separated from her mother when she was only a few days old, she fell foul of the flu and a few infections on her road to recovery. She was one of 30 seals being cared for by the Dingle Wildlife and Seal Sanctuary, most of which are casualties of the recent storms.
Sanctuary manager Ally McMillan said since Christmas they have rescued seals from every coastal county.
"It's been one of the worst seasons and what we've rescued since Christmas this year is what we'd normally deal with between October and January," she told the Irish Independent.
"We've also had a really high injury rate from impact traumas, where the seals were smashed up against the rocks and suffered broken shoulders or flippers and we've had to put six to sleep," she added.
Seals are a protected species under Irish and EU law but fishermen have been calling for a cull to control numbers.
But not every seal that's found on a beach is in difficulty and members of the public are advised to observe from a distance because they might return to the water of their own accord.
"There's a misconception that seals are like dolphins or whales but sometimes they only come out of the water because they're exhausted and need a rest, so people should never hunt one back into the water," she added.
And within minutes of being put back in the ocean, Lena went on her way, where it's hoped she'll meet up again with her colony.
Female grey seals can survive for up to 35 years. Males have a shorter life expectancy.
Meanwhile, in Tralee, another casualty of the storm and one of the most popular local attractions was back in business again. The glass roof of the Aqua Dome was damaged at Christmas, but the leisure centre and swimming pool re-opened yesterday.