What We Do At Exploris
Our seal rescue work started in 1989 when a member of the public contacted the aquarium regarding a young grey seal pup found on a local beach. After being assessed and observed for a period, it became apparent that it needed help. At that time there were no seal rescue facilities in Northern Ireland so, after seeking advice, the seal was cared for at the aquarium.
Initially we made do with a garden shed and the seawater pool at the entrance to the aquarium. As word spread of our rescue work, we started receiving more and more calls about seals and soon we were rescuing seals from around the whole of the Northern Irish coastline. Our limited facilities, however, meant that we could not cope with the increased numbers and some seal pups had to be transported to the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital in Norfolk.
It became clear that a purpose-built rescue centre was essential in Northern Ireland. Ards Borough Council, Northern Ireland Electricity and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board provided funding, and the sanctuary opened in autumn 1999.
Opened in 2000 the Seal Sanctuary is home to Northern Ireland's sick and orphaned seal pups and very year Exploris respond to calls from members of the public by taking in ill or abandoned common and grey seal pups. Most common seals are born in June, while most grey seals are born in November.
We will take you through the seals' journey as they are nursed back to health over a period of approximately four months.
On arrival, they are checked by a vet and our experienced aquarist team. Pneumonia and lungworm infections are common illnesses among seal pups, and many pups are underweight on arrival and with no layer of fat to keep them warm, making them vulnerable to hypothermia. While undergoing initial treatment and recovery they are cared for in our seal hospital and you can view them in their individual pens and from around the open pool areas.
Before the pups are released they are exercised in our rehabilitation pools where they build up their muscles and develop their swimming skills, learning 'normal' seal behaviour. Grey seal pups can usually be seen at Exploris from November to January.
Returning to the wild
The seal hospital is at its busiest across the two pupping seasons. Common seals are born during June and July and grey seals between September and December. Our aim is to release all our rescued seal pups back into the wild.
To date, Exploris has rescued 485 common and grey seal pups, this includes the 16 common pups rescued this season (2016) and 13 are still undergoing rehabilitation, 2 were transferred to Seal Rescue Ireland in Wexford, and 1, unfortunately, was too heavily infected with lungworm. Although each rescue, pup and rehabilitation process is unique and memorable, a few individuals have stood out over the years.
One of our earlier pups met a member of the royal family! May, a little premature common seal pup rescued in May 1994, was introduced to Prince Charles at the official opening of Exploris in July. Prince Charles remarked how fishy she smelled!
While the majority of pups are rescued from beaches, we have rescued a few from slightly more unusual locations. Frankie, a grey seal pup, was rescued on New Years Day 2007, from the middle of the runway at Derry City Airport. Injured and underweight, she climbed out of the river running past the runway, delaying a flight! Another grey seal pup, Spud, was rescued from a mechanics workshop in Sions Mills in January 2011 after swimming 15 miles inland and clambering out of a stream. In more recent years, grey seal pup Wasabi, was rescued from Kilroot power station after becoming trapped in one of the water cooling chambers in October 2012.
This means that at certain times of the year there are no seals in the hospital.
If you are particularly interested in viewing the seals, please call ahead for more information regarding their availability.