Seal Rescue Ireland
Often encountered in old Gaelic legends as “seal maidens,” and once believed to have magical properties, the seal shares it time between land and sea and belongs to a group of mammals known as “pinnipeds”, which means “wing-footed.” Two species make their home in the waters off Ireland’s coasts, the grey seal and the common seal. Their eyes adapt to low lighting to help them feed underwater on mackerel and herring or squid and octopus. Seals also have excellent directional hearing, which helps them to locate food. And, unlike those of us who remain cautious about embracing the cold Atlantic waters, these mammals are at home in colder temperatures thanks to a thick layer of blubber underneath their skin.
Despite these natural attributes, however, seals can encounter danger while out in the ocean. Natural predators such as the orca exist, albeit in small number. Humans are considered a bigger threat to present seal populations, in terms of chemical pollution, oil-based toxins or waste from the fishing industry. Abandoned fishing nets can cause strangulation and sometimes a slow, painful death.
Seal Rescue Ireland is the only organization in Ireland that is dedicated to seal rescue. In a modest facility in the seaside town of Courtown, County Wexford, we met with members of this inspirational team who care for rescued seals, nurse them back to health and eventually release them back into the ocean environment. They come from diverse backgrounds and from all over the world; Pedro Baranda has worked with marine mammals worldwide for over twenty seven years and brings important practical expertise to the program. As a qualified veterinary technician from the United States who has worked in wildlife rehab on three continents, Meadow Greenwood manages the center. Together with a large group of local volunteers, they have been working steadily towards the dream of providing education and conducting research in a state-of- the-art facility.
Education can have a huge effect on attitudes and involvement. The staff at Seal Rescue Ireland have considerable community support in the immediate area, due in part to their sense of responsibility regarding accessibility and engagement. Education is a vital component of their work. Upon arrival at the center members of the public experience a bright and welcoming visitor center, incorporating hands-on materials and information on their work, and on the species they work to rehabilitate. In addition, they offer a wide variety of educational programming for all age groups. Early childhood programs are held every Thursday at 10.00am and 3.00pm, incorporating storytime with opportunities for artistic experimentation and crafting. Parents and caregivers will appreciate the balance of structured content and free expression, enhanced by the chance to observe seals at close range. Children absorb our attitudes to everything, including the natural environment, at a very young age and we can encourage their curiosity and compassion by exposing them to nature at the earliest opportunity.
The center also hosts school visits by both primary and secondary aged students, with content suitably adjusted to cater for each age-group. Children under twelve typically learn about the causes and intent relating to rehabilitation, as well as strategies for encountering injured animals in the wild. Secondary aged students follow the daily work experiences of a marine rehab intern and are provided detailed information about the process involved in rescue as well as the machinery used in the work of rehabilitation. We were pleased to discover that the learning doesn’t stop there, with programming also offered for university students and even corporate groups. Members of the local community can also take a training course tailored to the needs of injured seals, which enables them to assist in the capacity of hands-on volunteers in cases of new patients at the center. What a wonderful opportunity for environmental stewardship!
Seal Rescue Ireland is only equipped to serve young seal pups but is nonetheless busy throughout the year due to the unsynchronized pupping season of both species; the grey seal typically gives birth between October and December, with common seals being born during the summer months of June and July. During our visit we were introduced to Merida, who was close to death when she was discovered tangled in a fishing net with dramatic and extensive injuries. Her eye had to be removed but despite the odds, her recovery was steady and has her on track to be released soon.
Direct rescue and rehabilitation is a huge part of the work here, although because of the nature of their work, Seal Rescue Ireland could also be the first to notice an epidemic among seals, which could indicate marine health in a more general sense. The center is in tune with water quality, which could have bearing on the human population too. While the seals are being treated in Courtown, the facility is aware of the need to balance essential care with respect for the patients as wild animals. An appropriate boundary, physical and somewhat emotional, is maintained to discourage the seals from becoming too comfortable among humans, and to help them retain their skills for survival in the ocean upon their release.
How you and your family or school can help
Check out their internship program
Consider volunteering your time, if you live locally
Fundraise in your local community, wherever you live
Help out their wish list, available on their website www.sealrescueireland.org
Connect with them on Instagram @sealrescueireland where you can see photos of new rescues and footage of releases!
If you are planning a trip to Ireland over the coming summer, why not pay them a visit? Please make sure to call ahead, to confirm approximately how many seals will be present on the day you hope to arrive. Ireland’s sunny south east coast has plenty of amenities for young families and abundant opportunities to explore nature!
Our thanks to the staff for their hospitality during our visit. We are highly supportive of their mission and wish them well in their ongoing work. Hopefully their dream of becoming a hub of research and education will become realized in the near future! In the meantime, here are some reading suggestions for young learners on the topic of seals and marine life:
Seal Pup Rescue, by Brenda Peterson...........................................My Readers Series (ages 5-7)
Leopard and Silkie, by Brenda Peterson..............................Holt/Ottaviano Books (ages 5-10)
The Orphan Seal, by Fran Hodgkins...............................................Down East Books (ages 4-8)
The Seal Children, by Jackie Morris...................................Lincoln Children’s Books (ages 6-8)
The Selkie Girl, by Susan Cooper and Warwick Hutton...............McElderry Books (ages 6-8)