Ireland’s native seal populations are VITAL to the marine ecosystem.
They are Keystone Species.
There are two species of seals that are native to Irish waters: the Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) and Common Seal (Phoca vitulina). Worldwide, predators of seals include large shark species and killer whales. However, these large predators are no longer found in high numbers in Irish waters, therefore seals and cetaceans (whales and dolphins) reign as apex predators and are considered ‘doctors’ of the marine ecosystem. Intricate predator-prey dynamics and processes of natural selection, result in apex predators removing weak individuals from prey populations, thus driving evolution of the species. Seals have inhabited the Irish coastline for millenia playing a critical role in balancing the ecosystem and recycling nutrients. They have always relied on once bountiful fish stocks, to grow muscle and store blubber. Their blubber is a crucial buffer for the brisk, often harsh ocean conditions surrounding Ireland. Population decline or eradication of any apex predator has far-reaching, often unforeseen consequences for the entire environment; as documented when the wolves were removed from Yellowstone National Park, in the United States.
Due to their semi-aquatic nature, seals provide us with valuable information about the marine environment.
Seals are classed as bioindicator species, which means we can monitor their behaviour and diets to better understand marine biodynamics. Climate change, habitat destruction, overfishing, marine pollution and human disturbance, are having an ever increasing impact on global marine species, information which is confirmed by many of the seals in our care. Unfortunately, all of these major threats to wildlife link directly back to anthropogenic (human) activity. As humans are often the root cause of these issues, it is within our power to resolve them.
As the only seal rescue facility within the Republic of Ireland for over ten years, SRI has taken on the responsibility of responding to all seal stranding calls across the nation. Our highly experienced staff and interns based on our site in Courtown, Co Wexford, are supported by over 900 trained rescue network volunteers spread nationwide, who are on call 24/7 to respond to seal strandings near them.
Unless a seal is in obvious and/or urgent need of professional care, they are placed on ‘watch’ for a period of up to 48 hours before they are lifted from the beach, to avoid interfering with healthy animals. Once it is confirmed that human intervention is required, as the pup would be unlikely to otherwise survive, the trained volunteers are instructed to safely lift and transport the seal to our rescue centre in Courtown, Co. Wexford.