We’re killing baby seals by our thoughtless behaviour

PUBLISHED: 06:08 19 January 2018

It's time to leave baby seals alone.

It's time to leave baby seals alone.

James Bass © 2015

Leave baby seals alone if you want them to survive, says Nick Conrad.

They are among the most appealing and beautiful of baby animals. But conservationists are warning sightseers to keep their distance from seal pups on Norfolk’s beaches. It’s an annual call but this year it’s more poignant. Why? Well I was saddened to hear this week that four seal pups have been found dead on the county’s beaches. The cause of death is unknown, however one expert suggested they had possibly been ‘spooked to death’.

I love my long walks along our fantastic beaches and occasionally I’m lucky enough to see a seal up on the sand. It is a wonderful privilege to share the same space as these curious creatures. With their wide dark eyes, their soft fur and cuddly frames, I can understand why people adore seals.

There is, of course, a great temptation to get up close – but don’t! In some cases the public literally love these animals to death.

I’m shocked by how selfish and frankly stupid people have been. Recently between Overstrand and Cromer I saw a beautiful little pup heading further onto the beach, away from the surf. The seal was at the waterline and could have only been a few months old. Holidaymakers were crowding around wanting to take pictures. As phones flashed capturing cheesy grins, their dogs circled sniffing their water-based cousin.

The very next day the carcass of that very seal lay on the sand. Its motionless little body no longer attractive to humans, just flies and gulls buzzed around. There is a good chance its mother put the seal on the beach whilst she re-entered the water to hunt. With humans and dogs blocking her way back to her pup, she may have abandoned the little one and swum away. This leaves the pup to fend for itself, which at its age it cannot do. Young seals grow rapidly but are completely dependent on their mothers for the first weeks of their lives.

These well-intentioned holidaymakers most likely, unwittingly, signed the death warrant of this little animal. I’m sure if confronted with the truth they’d be devastated. Sadly the truth hurts and the public need to know how counterproductive their well-intentioned ‘concern’ can be.

It is almost impossible to keep the public completely away from seals. Our breeding groups at Blakeney and Horsey are well protected. But when seals come up on the beach, interaction with humans is inevitable. For most of the year you can get within 70 or 100 yards if they’re hauled up on the sand. If you get too close they’ll just scurry off into the water. But seal pups can’t swim for the first three or four weeks of their lives so you can walk up to them and that can be construed as they’re not bothered. Short of closing the beach - which we can’t do – we can only appeal the public to deploy common sense.

I appeal to visitors to the beach to stay a respectful distance from the creatures. The EDP has recently reported some people not staying clear, including an alarming story of one dad allowing his son to sit on the back of one seal! How moronic. There really isn’t any other word to describe how idiotic this behaviour is.

So how close is too close? There are certain ways of telling if a seal, especially with a pup is distressed. If the mother starts to move in between you and her pups then you should always back off. If you continue and the mother retreats, they will probably never return – the baby seal will die. Stay a fair distance away, always keep dogs on leads. Remember you’re a guest in their environment and we should ensure our behaviour doesn’t impact on this beautiful creature’s welfare.

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