She was found one August morning on Cross beach in County Mayo. There had been a storm and with big swells, the huge waves rolling in off the Atlantic had left her high up on the rocky shore. Rose and Pascal Murphy were down from Sligo on a holiday and out walking with Jess, their border collie, when they discovered the seal pup. Rose later told me, they had been visiting that particular area to see some of the coastal wildflowers. Wandering the sand banks with vibrant green sea holly, white flowering clover and the sparse pink and blue sea pea flowers they were taking photos as they went. Rose was just following a dazzling black and red, six spot burnet moth over a hillock when Jess started the barking. Rose explained, Jess was well used to seals and not usually one for barking at them. She must have known this one was in trouble, she kept her distance, sounding the alarm. Rose and Pascal went to investigate. The seal pup was caught up in an old fishing net, causing injuries over her body and one of her flippers. She was struggling to break free and was so exhausted she could barely lift her head. As Pascal worked to untangle her, one solitary red flower dancing in the breeze on a tuft of grass right next to them, inspired Rose with a name: Poppy. Pascal managed to free Poppy, she made her way towards the sea. They watched on anxiously but Poppy floundered in the foamy waves, too weak to swim against the current, soon she washed back on to the beach. The Murphys lifted her on a blanket to their car for the trip inland to come and see me.
Cross Beach County Mayo- Where Poppy was found
At the clinic we carried her in. At just under a metre long, with wide auburn eyes, she was a beautiful dapple grey in colour, with a whole constellation of brown speckles all over. Of the two species of seals found in Ireland, Common seals and Grey seals, Poppy was one of the latter. About 2 months old, she would have been recently weaned off her mother. I cleaned her wounds and gave her some rehydrating fluids. Seals are not a species us vets treat regularly, so I called upon Seal Rescue Ireland for further guidance. Based in Courtown on the East coast, the seal rescue staff were able to advise on what to do. Some of their volunteers set out to come and collect Poppy and bring her back to their facility for rehabilitation. Unfortunately seals injured like this, with discarded nets or litter, are something the rescue centre see all too regularly. On arrival in Courtown, Poppy was just 15 kilos.
Seal Rescue Centre Courtown, Where Poppy was rehabilitated
Poppy needed regular tube feeding, being too weak to eat on her own. She went to the University College Dublin veterinary school for surgery to help save her flipper and treat her wounds including one near her eye, she wore a temporary eyepatch for a few days after. Recuperating back in Courtown, soon her wounds were healed. Poppy started to feed on her own and built up the strength to start swimming daily in the rehabilitation pools, eventually joining the other rescued seals there. She turned out to be a real character too! At mealtimes she would make a range of noises, almost like singing with excitement, as she heard the buckets of fish offerings rattling towards her. Between her meals and swims, she loved a good snooze, often found panned out in her enclosure lying on her back, flippers in the air snoring her head off.
After a few months of care she was now 60 kilos and ready for release. I made the trip to be there for her big day. It was a sunny spring morning up in Strandhill County Sligo, with the estuarine waters as calm as a bowl of milk, Poppy was released with three other rescued seals. There were a couple of familiar faces in the gathering of well-wishers too. Rose and Pascal Murphy, wearing beaming smiles, were absolutely thrilled see how much Poppy had grown. Watching from the window of their car nearby was Jess, wagging her tail, looking delighted with herself. On release, the other three seals went for it, but Poppy stopped just shy of the water and looked back. One last glance at us all, before taking off playfully bobbing through the water, the very picture of a seal grateful for a second chance at life.
Strandhill Beach County Sligo – Where Poppy was released