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The common seal that's rare, the rare seal that's common

by Paul Cormacain

We travelled along the east coast of Down last week, going to places we had not visited for ages.

In a former life, when I used to fix radar and echo-sounding equipment, I was a regular visitor to the quaint fishing village of Portavogie, working on the fishing boats. So that was one of the places we re-visited.

It is still a quaint fishing village, although now defaced with antidemocratic graffiti. The friends I used to know were not to be seen, but we saw many seals, some of whom did look familiar.

These were grey seals. The grey is one of the world's rare seals, with about 60% of them living round the coasts of Ireland and Britain.

The other seal seen around these coasts is the common seal, which is not all that common. So we have a rare seal which is common here, and a common seal which is rare here. Does that sound logical?

Seals are lovely, loveable, cuddly animals, or so is the general perception. However, if you happen to be a fish, the seal is a fearsome enemy who will gobble you up.

Large, slow fish like cod are the preferred food, probably because they are easy to catch.

Faster fish like mackerel and herring can frequently escape the attention of seals by out-manoeuvring and out-running them.

The male grey seal is more than two metres long, while the female is just short of two metres.

Once a year the female gives birth to a single pup and this little creature will remain on shore for a few months before going to sea. The mother suckles the young for about three weeks, then leaves it, and the young are left to fend for themselves after that.

Seals have a great way of sleeping. As swifts sleep on the wing, seals sleep upright in the water with only part of the head exposed.

If water looks like getting up their nose, a reflex action will insure that the nostrils close, and the animal does not even have to wake up.

Seals can be seen all around the coasts of Ireland and Britain.

Mostly grey seals, you will remember, but occasionally common seals are about.

Strangford Lough is a great spot for seal watching and towards the mouth of the Lough is probably one of the better places to look.

In the past it was more common for fish to be discarded from fishing vessels and seals got to know this and built up a relationship with places like Portavogie.

Seals still hang around Portavogie. In fact it is easy to see seals all along the County Down coast. And almost just as easy is to find an animal in trouble. So a seal etiquette has been set up which says do not disturb seals and their pups.

If you find a pup by itself, observe from a distance.

Unless it is injured or sick it is best not to approach, as this could do more harm than good. If you decide it needs to be rescued, approach from behind, as the bite of even a pup can be very serious.

Lift the pup onto a blanket by its hind flippers. Move the animal as quickly as possible into a clean, well ventilated. draught-free, box or shelter. No bedding. No heating. Professional help should be sought at this stage.

Coming Events

All Events Are Subject To Review. Please Check

Saturday 22 September - Moth Outing at Belfast Harbour Estate, from RSPB hide at 7.30pm. Details from Ian Rippey, 028 3833 3927
Marie Curie Cancer Care Cycle, Strangford or Downpatrick start, details from 028 9076 1358.
Harvest Fair at Lough Neagh's Oxford Island, at 1.30, with food, crafts and story-telling. Contact 028 3832 2205

Monday 24 September - Lisburn RSPB will have Eddie Franklin telling about butterflies and dragonflies at Port Mor, details from 028 9260 1864

Thursday 27 September - Birdwatch Morning at 10.30 at Castle Espie, more from 028 9187 4146

Saturday 29 September - A 1 pm hunt for fungus at Drumbanagher Estate, Poyntzpass, and if you want to fend out more phone 028 2766 2953

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