Belfast Telegraph

Poachers blamed for cutting of seals heads

Mutilated seals have been washing up on the shores of Co Down and officials believe illegal poachers could be to blame.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has revealed it is investigating a spate of horrific seal deaths, centring mainly on the Strangford Lough, Minerstown Beach and Dundrum Bay areas.

Carcasses of grey and common seals have been found along the shores of Co Down with shocking injuries including knife wounds, gunshot wounds and decapitation.

Horrific images taken by NIEA show decapitated seals washed up on the seaweed with their bloody spinal columns protruding.

Both species of seal are protected and NIEA has called on anyone with evidence of seal killings to contact the PSNI. Officials say there is no evidence that the unnatural deaths are linked to licensed fishing activity or the marine current turbine in Strangford Lough, however they are appealing for more information on illegal sea trout and salmon netting.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph reported on how the Glenariff River in the Glens of Antrim has been stripped of trout and salmon, thanks to the work of poachers.

Declan Looney, senior wildlife inspector with the NIEA, said: “Both harbour and grey seals are species protected under European and Northern Ireland legislation. Between late June and the end of November 2009, 16 seal carcasses were recovered from the shores of County Down, largely from Strangford Lough, Minerstown and Dundrum Bay.

“These were submitted for post- mortem examination by veterinary pathologists. Twelve of them — predominantly grey seal pups — showed signs of having suffered an unnatural death.”

NIEA said circumstantial evidence suggests netting was involved in at least two cases, but there is no proof that the deaths have resulted from legitimate, licensed fishing activity.

Seal killing in Northern Ireland is only permitted where a seal is causing ‘serious damage’ to a fishery and must immediately be reported to NIEA.

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