Watery visitor gives 'Seal' of approval to cleaned up Lagan

PEOPLE who are out for a stroll along the Lagan and spot the river's newest resident - the grey seal which has been living there since December - are being asked to take a picture to help a team tracking its progress.

In January, the Star reported several sightings of the seal and once again there have been further sightings of the mammal in the area from Coca-Cola to Ballyskeagh. it is being seen as evidence of how healthy the river has become

The seal, which is being monitored by a team at Exploris Seal Sanctuary in Portaferry, are hoping locals can help them learn more by sending them photographs of the mammal out of the water.

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Exploris Seal Sanctuary's Senior Aquarist Tania Singleton said: "It would give me more of an indication about it health wise, although it didn't look underweight. I would love to see it lazing happily on the riverbank."

A number of people from the Lisburn area, including Sharon O'Connor, were delighted to see the seal last weekend.

Sharon said: "We saw it in the disused stretch of canal beside the driving range at Ballyskeagh on Saturday, It was just amazing."

Sharon, however, was concerned the animal could be trapped as the area in which she spotted it is filled with debris.

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"That part of the canal has a lot of debris in it, mainly fallen branches and such, but I do hope it wasn't trapped. They are very resourceful and excellent swimmers so I'm hoping it's back nearer the coast again but this must be a record for a seal upstream, seven or eight miles from the sea.

"I couldn't quite figure out what I was looking at, it was too big for an otter, too long under the surface for a dog - it appeared and disappeared and then reappeared. Unfortunately It was too quick for me to get my camera out."

Lambeg man Robin Whiteside also spotted the seal, both in the canal at Ballyskeagh behind Nevins Row and on the Lagan behind Lambeg Parish Church, as he was walking along the river from Drumbeg to Coca Cola.

Robin said: "I spotted the seal just as it was feeding on quite a large pike. It was free enough as it had swam down from the Coca-Cola factory so it must be hunting along there, obviously it is following the salmon along the river.

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"It was quite remarkable to see and it appears to be quite healthy. I was on the towpath and it was not even ten yards from me. People I have spoken to said they were astonished to see it. It just shows how clean the River Lagan is, it is obviously clean if salmon and seals are coming up the river. It shows how we should be looking after our countryside and care for our waterways and appreciate what we have," said Robin.

Tania Singleton added: "We have certainly known the seal has been in the area since the beginning of December. It is a regular occurence to find seals going up the Lagan, they follow the fish and can cross the weirs easily.

"I saw the seal myself in February about a mile and a half from Shaw's Bridge, they can travel such distances. It was only by luck that I was able to stay with it as it would go under the water and reappear further away, I just kept running to follow it," said Tania.

Describing the seal, she said: "It was hard to tell what age it is as I only saw its head and back in the water, I know other people have seen it resting on the riverbank, but it seems to be quite happy.

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"In the last week it seems to be travelling further inland, obviously it will go in pursuit of whatever fish are up there. The seal at the minute is perfectly happy and if it wanted to get out of the river it could. It gives a good indication of how healthy the Lagan is that we have seals, otters and birds etc that are happy to live there."

If you have any photographs you could send to Tania of the seal out of the water you can send them to her at [email protected].

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