Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 10:39 UK

Seals start to overload sanctuary

seal pup
A grey seal pup like those above has been rescued by the Exploris centre

Northern Ireland's only seal rehabilitation centre has said it is dealing with unprecedented numbers of orphaned seal pups.

The centre, part of the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry, is also braced more work when grey seals begin to breed in Strangford Lough in the autumn.

Tania Singleton from Exploris said they did not know why there were so many pups with them at the moment.

"It's not our most busy season," she said.

"Currently we have 12 pups, 11 common seals and one grey seal pup."

The Northern Ireland Aquarium began caring for orphaned seals in 1989, with the sanctuary opening in 1999.

And although the pups may look adorable, caring for them is a lot of hard work.

"It's not just a case of giving them a couple of fish and that is them back to full health," said Tania.

"It's a bit hands-on for ourselves I'm afraid, which can result in a few bites.

common seal pup
Common seal pups are born in June and July

"They are wild animals at the end of the day. If they feel threatened they will bite.

"Initially, when they are first rescued, because they are too small or too weak to eat fish, we would actually tube feed them, every three to four hours, for three to four weeks until they are big enough to eat fish."

Tania urged members of public not to assume all lone pups have abandoned by their mothers.

"It is perfectly normal, at certain times of the year, for pups to be alone on the shore so people shouldn't automatically assume they have been abandoned," she said.

"We would advise people to leave them alone, keep other people and dogs away from them.

"Please, please do not put them back into water. That is the worse thing you can do.

"It can actually result in a pup being abandoned if you do put it back in the water, or if it is a very, very sick pup it can result in its death.

"If they wanted to be in the water, they would be in the water."

If you find what you think is an abandoned sea pup, observe it from afar, do not touch or feed and contact Exploris on 028 4272 8062.

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