Protected seal pups decapitated in Northern Ireland
Protected seals in Northern Ireland were decapitated and possibly shot, it has been revealed.
Most of the harbour and grey seals - which are both protected under European and Northern Ireland legislation - were recovered from Strangford Lough, Minerstown and Dundrum Bay. A total of 16 were found, mainly grey pups and juveniles,
The Environment Agency said circumstantial evidence indicated interaction with some form of net in at least two cases, but there was no proof the seal deaths resulted from legitimate, licensed fishing activity.
"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," the agency said.
Declan Looney, senior wildlife inspector from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: "Members of the public can assist by reporting all dead seal strandings to NIEA on 028 4461 5520."
"Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity involving seals should report this immediately to their local PSNI station, telephone 08456 008 000 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111."
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.