Monday 25 March 2019

Rescuers fear of food shortages for seal pups this coming year

Melanie Croce, operations manager at Seal Rescue Ireland in Courtown
Melanie Croce, operations manager at Seal Rescue Ireland in Courtown

Sara Gahan

Seal pups could be under pressure to find food later this year due to the unprecedented hot summer we just experienced.

Rescue workers in Seal Rescue Ireland, Courtown fear there may not be enough food to support seal pups this year because the animals started having their young two months ahead of schedule due to the good summer.

Melanie Croce, operations manager for the volunteer group, said it is hard to tell as of yet because they have not come across this situation, but the long drought led to seals normal mating cycles being disrupted. She added that fish stocks were higher in the winter and finding food sources in the autumn months could be difficult.

'It is a very complex issue and hard to tell what might happen this year,' said Melanie. 'We did have a big increase in storms and temperatures. All seals are adaptable to change but when the water becomes warmer the stock of cold water fish like salmon and cod decreases and the seals are left with very little food.'

Melanie explained the decrease in fish stock leads to abandonment of seal pups.

'The mothers need to travel far in search of food to help with milk for their young,' said Melanie. 'The young have no energy if they have no milk so they usually are abandoned while the mother searches.'

So far this year Seal Rescue Ireland's rehabilitation centre has helped 52 seal pups. Last year they rescued 140 pups, the highest on record, because of poor weather conditions caused by Hurricane Ophelia.

'Last year we had a 40 per cent increase in seal pups compared to 2016,' she added. 'The past winter we had severe storms and it was our busiest. For the first time ever we had reached full capacity.'

Melanie said they are bracing themselves for the coming year, but it is quite hard to tell what it will be like in terms of rescuing seal pups.

'When we get a storm the water wildlife really do suffer a lot,' said Melanie. 'They are bashed against rocks and become separated from their family.'

In an interview via The Irish Times, Matt Barnes, the group's community manager, said that it was concerning that this year the first seal pup was rescued by the organisation on August 20, nearly a month earlier than last year's first rescue.

However, Mr Barnes did say that it was too early to tell whether the number would exceed the level in 2017 because of the unpredictable nature of storms. He added in the interview that climate change and pollution were the biggest threats to the future of the seal population.

Seal pups are born with a fluffy white 'pre-coat', which they maintain while they are being weaned on dry land by their mothers. After about four weeks they shed their coat and develop a waterproof skin. A positive element of this year's weather was fewer seal pups were separated from their mothers as a result of being washed off rocks in blustery conditions.

Gorey Guardian