Protected seals found decapitated
Protected seals in Northern Ireland were decapitated and possibly shot, it has been revealed.
A total of 12 animals discovered on the shores of Co Down suffered an unnatural death.
Declan Looney, senior wildlife inspector from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: "Though circumstantial evidence indicates interaction with some form of net in at least two cases, there is no proof that these seal deaths have resulted from legitimate, licensed fishing activity."
He continued: "Neither is there evidence linking these deaths to the marine current turbine being trialled in the Strangford Narrows, as this would not inflict the sharp cuts seen."
A total of 16 dead seals, mainly grey seal pups and juveniles, were recovered from Strangford Lough, Minerstown and Dundrum Bay between June and November last year. Of those, 12 had suffered unnatural deaths.
Post-mortems from 2008 and 2009 found evidence of drowning, fractured jaws and extensive knife cuts around the neck made following the deaths.
Several had their heads cut off and there was trauma consistent with gunshot wounds or blows from a sharp object.
The environment agency accepts that some deaths by drowning may be the result of them being inadvertently caught in legitimate fishing nets.