Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release.
Orphaned, sick and injured Common and Grey seal pups are rescued from around the whole coast of the Republic of Ireland. We rely on members of the public who come across pups in distress and our amazing team of coast wide Rescue Volunteer Network to bring rescue and transport the pups to our centre for care.
Arrival at Centre:
Pups are brought straight to the centre, sometimes after travelling long distances. Once admitted into the hospital we record all important details about the pup from who rescued it, to where it is from, any injuries and illness, and weigh the pup. We calculate the amount of food to give the pup and begin by hydrating it as it may have been days since it was fed by its mother. We clean, treat and bandage any wounds or injuries and check temperature regularly. Antibiotics, worming treatments and any other medicines are prescribed immediately on arrival after initial assessment.
Once hydrated and begun on treatment, the seal pup is kept in a specially designed kennel, away from cold and wind with a heat lamp to stabilize it. We keep pups separated for the first while until they are given the all clear that they are disease free to prevent the spread of infection to other patients. This quarantine time also allows the pup time to rest and recuperate and gain strength.
The pup is monitored and checked regularly and fed every 3 - 4 hours gradually moving from fluids to either liquidized fish or whole fish depending on the age of the pup. We weigh the pup weekly to monitor progress.
We use several different methods of feeding the rescued pups depending on their stage of the rehabilitation process.
Pups are fed an oral rehydration solution and blended fish "soup", via stomach tube which is passed into the pups mouth and into the stomach. As unpleasant as it may seem, this is sometimes the only way to get critical fluids, medications and nutrition into severely ill pups.
Fully trained staff are responsible for tubing the pups and as seals have a strong esophagus to cope with swallowing sharp spiny fish the tube does not have any lasting effect on them. Pups are fed this way every 4 hours, even through the night for critical pups.
The next step after Tube feeding is introducing whole herring via force feeding. Depending on the age of the seal this process varies; but is normally begun at the age of weaning (3-4 weeks old). The handler gently opens the seals mouth and encourages the seal to eat a whole fish - this sometimes requires the fish to be pushed into the mouth and throat and the seals natural swallowing reflex follows.
Force feeding generally is not needed to be done for very long as the seals quickly realize that the fish is food and eagerly eat by themselves. Sometimes this process can be skipped altogether as many pups will voluntarily eat fish straight away!
Once the seals have a taste for the fish we begin to encourage them to take the fish voluntarily without being forced. This is much less stressful for the seal and makes it easier for the animal care team too!
This is the ultimate goal! This process takes longer with Common seals as they normally learn this behaviour from their mothers in the wild. Grey seals on the other hand have a quick weaning from the mother and are left to fend for themselves straight away - eventually hunger drives them to find food. Grey seals for this reason are generally fast learners and often moulted grey pups admitted to the centre will eat fish straight away upon arrival.
For slower pups we encourage self feeding by leaving fish in their bath at all times and the seal will play with, and eventually eat the fish! Once the pups are confidently eating by themselves with no assistance from the animal care team, they are ready to progress to the nursery pools!