Local Councillor Cadogan Enright has been working with seal biologist Sue Wilson on devising methods whereby the local community, the Down District Council, Army Camp Authorities and the PSNI can cooperate together to preserve the important colonies of breeding seals at Ballykinlar
Cllr Cadogan Enright said, “The local seal colonies have suffered intense disturbance in recent years with many deaths recorded and rescues being required where seal pups have become separated from their mothers. The only County Down seals needing rescue so far this year have come from the Dundrum Bay area. Three are currently being cared for at Exploris in Strangford, while two have been sent down to the Irish Seal Sanctuary in Wexford.”
Sue Wilson said, “The easiest way to prevent seal disturbance, separation of pups from mothers and seal deaths is for people to stay well back from the area were the seals gather. At least 200 metres is required and people and dogs should not be allowed to approach the colony, either on foot or in a car or in any water craft. Jet-skis in particular can cause seal deaths. It is actually a criminal offence to disturb seals, with severe penalties attached, but most people seem not to know this, and do not understand that they are breaking the law by approaching seals and causing them to rush into the water. However, it is my experience that most people, when they realise the serious disturbance that human activities can cause around seals, will willingly stay at a safe distance. This safe distance for seals on shore is called the ‘flight distance’, and is usually about 200m. Seals are very vigilant, and look up from their sleep every minute or so to check that there is no danger. If they spot movement within their flight distance, they will alert the colony and this may precipitate a rush for the water. Over the last few weeks there have been disturbances of seal groups with newborn pups. Older seals will also start moulting soon and will need to spend time ashore to get their new coats – the same rules apply and anybody wanting to observe should do so from more than 200 metres, with binoculars if they wish. Jet skis should stay further away than this so as not to strike seals in the water around the colony The Council is going to put new signs up along the beach to warn people, but signs cannot be everywhere – people need to have the knowledge themselves and be aware”.
Cllr Enright concluded, “Local people working in conjunction with the authorities can come up with better ways to protect this long-standing asset in Ballykinlar and Dundrum Bay for the benefit of our children and children’s children. Regardless of this, the most effective way to protect the seals is for local people to be aware that approaching within 200 yards of them causes disturbance and problems for our local seal colony. This applies not just to Ballykinlar and Dundrum, but along the whole Lecale and Mourne Coast down to Carlingford, and also to Strangford Lough where we also have seal colonies too.