‘Cop on’ and stay away from seals on Blasket Islands, says O’Donovan

Tourists are reportedly using the historic home of Peig Sayers as a toilet

People should “exercise some cop on” when they visit the Blasket Islands and stay away from the seal population, Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan has said.

His comment comes in the wake of reports that tourists are disturbing the seals and using the historic home of Peig Sayers as a toilet.

Brock Montgomery, caretaker on the island for six months, said he had seen a visitor pick up a seal pup, throw it into the ocean and then pick it up to take a selfie photograph.

General wildlife etiquette was frequently ignored by visitors, he said. Very often they would run after seals and chase them away if they were camping on the beach. At first he thought the person had been trying to be helpful in throwing the seal into the water, but then when he saw him taking a selfie, he approached him and had words.

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“I wasn’t too happy with him,” Mr Montgomery told the Today with Claire Byrne show on Friday. “I don’t know if they clicked in to what they had done because they inadvertently killed that seal pup because the mum would then abandon it, so I don’t think they really understood what they were doing — it’s a matter of general wildlife etiquette, maybe knowledge as well when coming to the island.”

Mr Montgomery explained that seals are mammals. “They actually live on land, they spend a lot of time in water — but the majority of their life is spent on land. That’s their home. Just leave them alone. It’s pretty simple.”

The majority of people want to just observe the seals, he added. “But you get one ignorant person a day who wants to scare them all away — it ruins it for the other 200 people. If everybody could just work together, they could preserve the beautiful things on the island.

Mr O’Donovan told RTÉ News at One that he had recently visited the island and had spoken with the Office of Public Works (OPW). He was aware that the lack of facilities on the island were an issue that the OPW intended to address and he estimated these would be in place by the beginning of the tourist season in 2023.

Multilingual signage would also be erected at the boarding point for boats to the islands, on the boats and on the island urging co-operation with regard to wildlife etiquette. “I’m asking people to exercise cop on and to stay away from them [seals].”

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a media monitor and reporter