Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Seal in the River Lee

Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) at Union Quay, Cork City

The River Lee extends some 65 km from the Shehy Mountains to the sea at Cork Harbour (1). It starts becoming estuarine at Cork city: indeed the city was once a series of marshy islands surrounded by brackish water, a fact remembered in the names of parts of the city (The Marsh, Morrisson's Island, etc.) and the name of Cork itself, from the Irish “corcach” meaning bog (1). This estuarine habitat often brings large sea mammals right into the centre of the city, much to bemusement and delight of its residents. While Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) and dolphin species have been recorded in the past (2), the most common large mammals to be seen in the city area of the Lee are seals, both Grey (Halichoerus grypus) and Common (Phoca vitulina). The accompanying picture was taken on Christmas eve, at about 9.30 in the morning of a Grey Seal basking in the river around the Union Quay area of the city. Grey Seals are distinguished from Common Seals by their larger, almost dog-like, snout (4). Males are darker in colour than females and may also be noticeably larger (up to 0.5 m). Indeed, some males can grow quite large, reaching 3 m in length.

  1. Crowley et al. (Eds.), 2005. Atlas of Cork City pp. 7-16
  2. Ryan and Wilson, 2003. The Irish Naturalists' Journal 27 pp. 187-191
  3. Sterry, 2004. Collins Complete Guide to Irish Wildlife p. 28

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