We started to consider the diet of the harbour seals in Dundrum Bay in 1995 (as part of a contract study for Environment & Heritage Service in Northern Ireland) at a time when there was some concern that the harbour seals in Co. Down were starting to decline in number. Two haul-out sites in Dundrum bay (at Minerstown and Ballykinler) were chosen for the study, because faecal samples could be collected from these haul out sites after they were vacated by the seals on the falling tide. The seals did not therefore have to be disturbed. The study was continued by Tara Seal Research Centre, in association with colleagues at Aberdeen University Zoology Department and at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland in subsequent years. The original 1995 study was contained in the following report:

  • Wilson, S.C. & Corpe, H.M. 1996. An investigation into the status quo of the harbour seals of Co. Down, Northern Ireland. Final Report to Environment & Heritage Service, Northern Ireland, May, 1996.

– and the following paper was published in 2002 and is available online:

  • Wilson, S.C., Pierce, G.J., Higgins, C.M. & Armstrong, M.J. 2002. Diet of the harbour seals Phoca vitulina of Dundrum Bay, north-east Ireland. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K., 82: 1009-1018.
    Abstract – This study has shown that the main consituents of the diet of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) of Dundrum Bay, County Down, north-east Ireland, during the past few years (1995-2000) have been small flatfish and gadid fish, with the emphasis shifting from the beginning to the end of the study period from flatfish to gadids, principally whiting and haddock/pollack/saithe. During both 1995 and 1996 the diet of post-weaning pups consisted entirely of small gadid fish. The implications of this relatively poor diet, apparently deficient in oily fish, are considered – together with information on fish stocks in the north-west Irish Sea in recent years – in the context of an apparent decline both in the breeding population of harbour seals along the County Down coast and in the play behaviour of juvenile seals.