Marine Mammals

In Ireland, there are two groups of mammals that inhabit the marine environment; cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and pinnipeds (sealions, walruses, seals).

Irish cetaceans include six species of baleen whale and eighteen species of toothed whale, including five species of beaked whale. 24 species of cetacean have been recorded in Ireland. Details of these cetacean species can be found at

From the pinnipeds group, Ireland has only two species of seals; the Common (or Harbour) Seal and the Grey (or Atlantic) Seal. Both species have established themselves at terrestrial colonies (or haul-outs) along all coastlines of Ireland. They have adopted a semiaquatic life; they rest, breed, and rear young on land, but the majority of their time is spent in the water.

First year mortality for young seals varies between 34-60% depending on location. Killer whales and sharks are among their natural predators, but seal populations are under far greater threat through their interaction with man, particularly where commercial fishermen see seals as competition in pursuit of dwindling fish stocks. This has resulted in some illegal ‘culling’ of seals.

In 1914 Grey seals became the world’s first officially protected species. Ireland has a responsibility towards the well-being of Grey seal colonies, as half the European population is found around the country’s coast.

Marine Mammal Crimes

Marine mammals are protected by law in the Republic of Ireland under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012.
The protection afforded to the various marine mammals in Ireland is summarised below:

Harbour Porpoise Annex II of EC Habitats Directive
Annex IV of EC Habitats Directive
Protected species of Wildlife (Amendment) Act
OSPAR List of Threatened and Declining Species and Habitats
Bottlenose Dolphin Annex II of EC Habitats Directive
Annex IV of EC Habitats Directive
Protected species of Wildlife (Amendment) Act
All Cetacea Annex IV of EC Habitats Directive
Protected species of Wildlife (Amendment) Act
Grey Seal/Harbour Seal Annex II of EC Habitats Directive
Protected species of Wildlife (Amendment) Act

Unless authorised to do so under a valid licence/permission/derogation granted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 it is unlawful to:-

  • Hunt or Kill (or attempt to do so) a marine mammal otherwise than under and in accordance with a permission or licence granted by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
  • Wilfully interfere with or destroy a marine mammal at its breeding and resting place
  • Possess a marine mammal, whether alive or dead, or any part, product or derivative thereof other than one lawfully taken pursuant to the Wildlife Acts
  • Sell, keep or offer for sale, or engage in taxidermy in respect of a marine mammal or any parts, products or derivatives thereof other that by a licensed wildlife dealer with a lawfully acquired specimen

Recording evidence at the Crime Scene

Assessing whether a criminal offence has taken place may not always be straight forward and other possibilities such as natural deaths, predation and legal hunting should be considered.

If you come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird or object that may be related to a wildlife crime, every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

Reporting a marine mammal crime

To report suspected illegal marine mammal activity contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service
Tel: 01-888 3242 or LoCall 1890 383 000

For a pdf of contact numbers for your local NPWS Conservation Ranger click HERE

If you can’t reach NPWS personnel call An Garda Síochána:

If the crime is in progress or about to happen, or if the offender is still at the scene or has just left call 999 or 112

If the event is finished then either call your local Garda Station (Garda Stations Directory) or the Garda Confidential Telephone Number 1800 666 111

[Although it will assist the NPWS and Gardaí if you provide as much information as possible, you do not have to give your name if you ring to report an incident.]

If the mammal is alive and is injured, also call a wildlife rehabilitator/vet from the contacts page of Irish Wildlife Matters Irish Wildlife Matters
If you witness any crime involving a seal please also contact Seal Rescue Ireland or The Irish Seal Sanctuary
For cetacean crimes please also contact the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

For more information on reporting a crime click HERE