dead seal
The number of dead seals washing up on Irish shores rose significantly last year, according to Seal Rescue Ireland.

The rescue charity says that it received the highest number of dead seal reports of the last five years in 2020.

Speaking to Patricia Messinger on C103′s Cork Today show, Seal Rescue Ireland executive director Melanie Croce said that the group is seeing a "huge rise" in reports of dead seals.

Croce said that Seal Rescue Ireland has "been keeping a dead seal database for the last five years, and we have seen a huge rise in the last year".

"2020 was the highest number of reports we've ever had, with 202 dead seal reports coming from all over the country, which was more than double the previous year," Croce said.

The charity has already recorded 38 reports in the last six weeks, more than a third of which have come from Cork.

Eight reports in the last week came from the Ballycotton and Shanagarry areas in East Cork, where some people thought the seals appeared to have bullet holes in their bodies.

However, Croce said that when the seals wash ashore, they are often already decomposing and that postmortem are challenging because of a lack of funding, so it can be "almost impossible" to determine the cause of death.

She said the increase in reports is likely due to climate change.

"As the increase in the severity and frequency of storms is happening year to year, we're getting more and more seals, specifically young pups, who are getting washed up beaches, they can drown, they can get bashed into rocks. It's just a really rough start to life," she said.

"We're also seeing a lot of coastal erosion. Seals have to come up on beaches to rest and rear their young. Basically, when we're losing our coast lines, they're losing their habitat."

Additionally, another cause of mortality for the seals is being caught in fishing nets.

Croce said that Seal Rescue Ireland recorded four seals this winter that washed up in the south-east with "visible evidence of nets".

"They ultimately drown," she said.

"Unfortunately a lot of this is happening offshore where we're not seeing it. We're only seeing the ones washing up, so there's really no way of knowing the real number of seals that are being impacted by this out at sea.

"We need to protect them not only to protect the health of our seas but for future generations to be able to enjoy them."

In November, the National Parks and Wildlife Service launched an investigation into a discovery of dead seals on Banna Beach, Co Kerry, who were missing their heads.

Seals are a protected species in Ireland under the Irish Wildlife Act, 1976 and the EU's Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972.