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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 January 2007, 13:10 GMT
Seal pups suffer in winter gales
Joe was cared for at the seal sanctuary
Joe was cared for at Exploris
Newborn seal pups are getting into difficulties along the Irish coast because of stormy weather.

Seal sanctuary staff at Exploris, the Northern Ireland Aquarium based at Portaferry on Strangford Lough, said it was running at full capacity.

Marketing manager Rory Martin said the sanctuary was coping with a record number of seals - 19 at present.

"The demand has been so high that we have had to send seals to Wales," Mr Martin said.

The period between September and December is pupping season for grey seals.

At birth, they are covered in white fluffy fur that is easily waterlogged so the majority of pups stay ashore as their mother comes to feed them.

The combination of stormy seas and viral or respiratory infections has meant that more and more seals require help.

Northern Ireland has been affected by stormy weather over Christmas and the New Year period.

Tania Johnston, Exploris Seal Rehabilitation officer, said many of the rescue centres across the British Isles were full up and it was difficult to find a place for the animals.

Pavlova was cared for at the sanctuary

"Luckily, we were able to find a rescue centre in Wales that could take three of the seals," she said.

Darla, Pearl and Flo, three female grey seals, left for Wales shortly before Christmas.

People who discover a seal which may be in trouble, are advised to keep their distance, not to move into the water and not to attempt to feed or to touch them.

Meanwhile, the Irish Seal Sanctuary at Greystones outside Dublin city reported that it was so overstretched that it had to release some seal pups at a little below the weight that they would prefer.

"We would ask the public to keep an eye out for our paint marked animals in case they are unable to cope with the storms that have been forecast for the next few days," a spokeswoman said.

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