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A Summer in Ireland: Rehabilitating Seals by Kianna Anderson, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Major, Microbiology Minor

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Posted: November 26, 2018

“If life presents an amazing, unique opportunity to you, do it without fear.”
A brisk hike through Tara Hill which displayed Ireland’s natural beauty ahead

A brisk hike through Tara Hill which displayed Ireland’s natural beauty ahead

I knew coming to Penn State that I wanted to study abroad and experience that unforgettable moment that so many talk about when reflecting on their international trips. As I began my search, I didn’t feel like any of the opportunities completely fit my interest and I began to look for an independent program that I could pursue. Finally, I came across Seal Rescue Ireland, a rehabilitation centre located in a small fishing town on the coastline of Southeastern Ireland. Fast forward seven months, and I’m landing in Ireland meeting my new housemates for my 12-week internship. As my first time abroad, pursuing an international program alone was frightening to say the least, but my trip lived up to the highest standards. Not only did I get experience Irish culture, but I also got to be introduced to my Belgian, Scottish, and Australian housemates’ cultures. Days we would have off, we got to experience nearby beaches, nature trails, and local entertainment.   

My official title was rehabilitation and education intern. Half of my week was spent working outside cleaning and caring for the seals, while the other half was spent inside informing the public about marine conservation and dangers of plastic waste. I learned about the one seal’s story a few days before I departed to Ireland, a young grey seal named, Maui. He was found entangled in monofilament fishing line around his neck, slowly cutting into his skin as he grew. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my trip, to see Maui being released a week before I flew home. As soon as his cage was opened, he didn’t hesitate, he knew the giant blue view ahead was home, so just like that, he was gone.

The education aspect of the internship was spent in the centre, taking visitors on a tour and informing them how Seal Rescue Ireland is the only seal rescue in the entire Republic of Ireland, the two species of seals in Irish waters, and the many reasons why we take in seals, for instance, being entangled, injured, ill, emaciated, and orphaned. We also had the responsibility of answering the rescue phone hotline, in case if anyone found a stranded seal. Each intern was in charge of it once a week, and the calls would vary between, “When is the centre open until?” to “I was walking along the beach, and I came across a seal that seems injured.” The first call regarding a seal occurred about a week after I arrived, a premature common seal pup that was struggling to swim. Although we were stationed in County Wexford, we received calls from all over the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. This unique opportunity forced me to get familiar with more counties than just the one I was staying in.

Now for the rehabilitation aspect of the internship, we were outside for the entire shift doing hands-on activities. Every morning when we would begin, it consisted of cleaning the kennels, breaking the defrosted fish, feeding the seals in the pools and kennels, and bleaching floors. After a month, we got in a few new pups, and they required more attention and around the clock care, so we began AM and PM shifts. When the premature common seal pup first arrived, we had to feed him every 4 hours! The new pups had to be taught how to eat fish properly, which I found most fascinating about this internship, going through the phases of proper feeding, initially tube feeding to the final step of free feeding! As a microbiology minor, learning about the different diseases and illnesses was quite interesting! Right from arrival, I was introduced to a few older seals that SRI was caring for that had seal pox (similar to human chicken pox). As my final days wrapped up, I was taught how to give antibiotic injections, which was definitely a highlight, as I anxiously waited to learn how since day one. When seals would reach their release weight, 40kg for grey seals, or about 30kg for common seals we released them back to the ocean!

I truly can’t describe into words what this experience meant to me, but that through learning to be more environmentally conscious, and to lead by taking example, the experience has changed me for the better.