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Seal cull blamed on fishermen
Nicola Byrne

The Observer

7th November 2004

Fishermen have been blamed for the slaughter of around 60 grey seals off the coast of Kerry.
Gardai say they believe the animals, many of them pups as young as three weeks, were butchered to stop them catching in salmon drift nets.

Pictures of their carcasses have caused revulsion across Ireland, with environment minister Dick Roche describing the attack as barbaric.

And wildlife experts say the true number of deaths may be higher than 60, with the carcasses of many more washed away before the discovery was made. Rachel Whittome, of the Irish Seal Sanctuary, said the discovery was 'heartbreaking'.

'We only had enough funds to save five seal pups this year but we did it,' she added. 'And then something like this happens. It's devastating.'

The slaughter, on the Blasket Islands, is the latest in a number along Ireland's west coast. As yet there have been no convictions but Gardai have pledged to catch the perpetrators of the Kerry attack.

Sergeant Mossie O'Donnell of Dingle police, said, “This a hugely emotive issue in rural coastal communities. Potential witnesses are scared to come forward for fear of retribution. Ninety-nine per cent of people in this area regard this as barbarism but the fishermen will tell you they're trying to protect their living. But we are adamant it has to stop.”

Sgt O'Donnell said he was satisfied the seals had been shot and not bludgeoned, as earlier thought, although some still maintain this.

The grey seals, a protected species, were found by divers on a breeding beach on Beginish last week. Most were pups that had just been weaned.

Gardai say the killing was probably planned some time ago, as the Blaskets are one of the biggest breeding grounds in Ireland for the grey seal.

Apart from the fact that they become entangled in nets, fishermen also regard the seals as pests because of the amount of fish they consume.

Mr Roche said: 'I was shocked and disgusted to hear reports of the sheer brutality of the slaughter of the seals off the Blasket Islands. I have sent an official of my department to the islands to investigate this disgraceful act and I am expecting a full report. The cruel and barbaric slaughter of these seals has a de-humanising effect on society.'