Rare seals are continuing to die in suspicious circumstances along the Co. Down shores. According to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency some of the seals were decapitated and possibly shot.

A total of 16 seal carcasses were recovered from Strangford Lough, Minerstown and Dundrum Bay between late June and the end of last year. Twelve of these had suffered an unnatural death with evidence of gunshot wound and knife cuts.

Postmortems showed that in 2008 four seals were decapitated. Declan Looney, Senior Wildlife Inspector with the NIEA expressed his concerns over the number of fatalities.

"Both harbor and grey seals are species protected under European and Northern Ireland legislation.” he explained to UTV.

"We're asking the public for their support in helping us to solve this mystery", Mr Looney said.

"They appear to have drowned first. They appear to have become trapped in some kind of net and the heads have been cut off to get them out of whatever they were caught in. We don't know what they were caught in."

"The Agency accepts that some deaths by drowning may be the result of inadvertent by-catch in legitimate fishing nets. The reporting of such instances will help evaluate the scale of this problem and assess ways of minimizing this risk", he added.

Mr Looney urged the public to stay vigilant for any suspicious behavior.