Questions raised as two species of Arctic seal are spotted in southern Ireland

The baby ringed seal found in County Kerry in southwest Ireland on January 2. Seal Rescue Ireland estimates it was only 3 to 4 weeks old. (Courtesy Seal Rescue Ireland)
Two species of seal, whose ranges are typically restricted to the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic, unexpectedly showed up on the southern coast of Ireland in the New Year, stunning locals and raising questions about what caused the animals to stray so far from their typical habitat.

The first sighting was on January 1, when an adult hooded seal showed up on the coast of Schull, a town in County Cork. The animal stayed for about a day before going back into the ocean.

Hooded seals’ typical range is in the Arctic Ocean, and in the North Atlantic around Iceland and Greenland.

That was followed on January 2 by reports of a ringed seal pup on the coastline of County Kerry, just to the west of of County Cork.

Ringed seals live on and below ice and their typical habitat ranges across the Arctic Ocean.

Uncommon sightings

Grey and common seals are the only two seal species native to Ireland, making the New Year’s sightings so out of the ordinary.

There’s been only four confirmed reports of hooded seals in Ireland since 2001 says Seal Rescue Ireland, a charity that responds to, and rehabilitates, sick, injured or orphaned seals found on the country’s coastlines.

But the pup reported on January 2 is the first documented case of a ringed seal in Ireland, the organization said.

“It’s highly unusual,” Melanie Croce, the executive director of Seal Rescue Ireland, told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview.

Video of the ringed seal pup, shot by a volunteer, for Seal Rescue Ireland, on the coastline of Ireland’s County Kerry:

(Courtesy Seal Rescue Ireland)

“As a three to four week old pup, it should have still been with its mother,” Croce said. “It’s very far outside its range anyways, but it should have still been with her for another month or so. The fact that it was alone was not a good sign.”

Seal Rescue Ireland, based in County Wexford, was in the middle of organizing a rescue operation for the baby animal, but the pup ended up going back into the water.

“It hasn’t been spotted since so we are hoping for the best,” Croce said. “We’re hoping that maybe it’s able to survive or maybe make it’s way up North.”

Video of the hooded seal on the coastline of Ireland’s County Cork. The animal’s inflatable nose hood indicates it was an adult:

(Schull Sea Safari/Courtesy Seal Rescue Ireland)

But unfortunately, the organization received bad news about the fate of the hooded seal.

“We did just get a report this afternoon that it did wash up and it did pass away,” Croce said Monday. “It was found on the beach pretty near to where it was originally spotted.”

Seal Rescue Ireland is now organizing a necropsy at Cork Regional Vet Lab to find out what contributed to the seal’s death. 

Feature Interview
Melanie Croce (Courtesy Seal Rescue Ireland)

For more on Ireland’s surprise New Year’s seal sightings, why climate change may be behind them and why Ireland’s coast line can be so dangerous for Arctic adapted species, listen to Eye on the Arctic‘s conversation with Melanie Croce, the executive director of Seal Rescue Ireland:

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

After publication of this story, Seal Rescue Ireland asked that video of the hooded seal found in County Cork be credited to Schull Sea Safari. Schull Sea Safari has been added to the hooded seal video credit.
Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Invasive species: Fisheries and Oceans Canada has no mandate in Arctic, audit finds, CBC News

Finland: River ice and white hares: Finnish scientists study signs of climate change in nature, Yle News 

Norway: Arctic fox’s rapid journey from Svalbard to Northern Canada stuns researchers, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Snow crabs invading Russia’s Arctic nuclear waste dump, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Communities wrestle with shark-bite mystery off Alaskan coast, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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