Hundreds of people crowded a Cork beach at the weekend to witness the county's first seal release of the season.
Two grey seals, nicknamed Pearl and Pumbaa after Disney movie characters from Finding Nemo and The Lion King, were ushered into the sea at Fountainstown beach at around lunch time on Sunday.
The pair had been rescued by animal welfare group Seal Rescue Ireland late last year.
Melanie Croce, the operations manager at the organisation, said they were rescued off the Cork coastline, near Crosshaven, and were both severely malnourished.
“Both seals were very skinny and malnourished and had a lot of parasites. A lot of seals in the area have lungworm and so their immune systems are compromised from malnourishment and the parasites can really take over and actually kill baby seals,” she explained.
“Pearl, when she first came in, she had seizures for a long time because her temperature was too high. Usually, that's a very bad sign... but miraculously and with a lot of care she was able to gain weight and combat the infection and so she was deemed healthy enough for release.”
Melanie said that some seal pups are abandoned by their parents and are unable to fend for themselves. She said others are injured by fishing paraphernalia, by dogs, by other seals, or by human interference.
“We have a few seals who have special stories. We have one seal that when she was found she was wrapped up in fishing line. She almost passed away. She had to get an eye surgically removed actually. But she's nice and healthy now.”
The shelter, which operates a base in Wexford but caters for seals all across the country, said it has seen a huge influx of grey seal pups in the last few months.
Last year, they rescued more than 120 seals as well as other animals. Currently, the shelter is catering for 24 seals and is busier than ever.
Melanie said a huge volume of people are now phoning the shelter when they see seals and seal pups, and are looking either for information or to know how they can help.
“We're a victim of our own success really. A lot more people are contacting us. But we're delighted that people are seeking information.”
She said that if people see a seal on the coast, the best thing they can do is keep a good distance and give the shelter a call.
“The message to people if they find a seal in distress is to give them space. Definitely, do not approach the seal. In many cases, especially with grey seals, the mother will actually be just off the coast fishing and she will be coming back... but if there are people there she won't come back out of the water. So that can actually result in the orphaning of a baby seal,” she explained.
“But also, they're wild animals and they can bite, they can carry diseases, and they do haul out to rest. So sometimes they're just trying to rest and when people approach them and harass them they're already exhausted and yet they have to go back into the water to escape which is not good for them.
“What we tell people is to please observe from at least 100m away and to contact us and we can immediate try to get a volunteer to respond if we deem it necessary. We also like to get people to send us a photo so we can assess if the seal is healthy and is just resting or if it's in trouble and it need to be rescued.”
For more information, or to volunteer to help Seal Rescue Ireland, go to www.sealrescueireland.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 087 195 5393, or search for Seal Rescue Ireland on Facebook.