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Give Seals Space: Stopping Seal Disturbance

Behaviour Change Cornwall is funding and launching a new campaign – with the backing of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT), Seal Alliance and Looe Marine Conservation Group  – to focus on tackling the growing issue of human disturbance on the seals here in Cornwall.

What is Seal Disturbance and How It Happens

Seals are beautiful and intelligent marine mammals – and our coast is a key area seals use for resting, socialising, breeding and moulting. But using this coastline means that humans can get too close to seals can lead to their injury and death. Seeing that over a third of all the world’s common and grey seals live here on the UK’s shore it’s us that has the biggest part to play in protecting them. 

If people or their dogs startle seals by getting too close (which can be by accident or intentionally within 300m), this wastes their energy, meaning young pups struggle to haul out of the water to rest and digest their food and can lead to adult seals stampeding on rocks, which prove fatal to both males, mothers and pups. To get an idea, Sue Sayer of CSGRT has witnessed during her research – “bleeding, grazed flippers, ripped-out claws and gashed bellies that leave blood trails across the rocks after a stampede caused by human disturbance”.

The impact of disturbance doesn’t always end in bloody flanks torn on rocks – most disturbance is hard to see – with mothers not being able to build sufficient fat reserves so they cannot feed new-born pups adequately.

Disturbance is detrimental to seals, but it is entirely preventable. We urge everyone to learn about seal behaviour, so you can give seals the space that they need and respect this vulnerable marine species.

happy seal banananing on a rock
worried seal spotted a threat
disturbed seal splashing into the water

Simple Rules & How to Read Seal Behaviour

If a seal is looking at you, it has been disturbed and is watching to see if your a threat – so it’s time to move further away. Use your camera and binoculars, stay quiet and out of sight. See our full guide below. If we follow these simple rules we can enjoy watching seals for longer and without harm – a win–win for both people and seals. Seals use their nose more than their eyes on land – unable to see clearly as we do on land – so keep yourself downwind and your dog on a lead as dogs can surprise seals. 

poster to inform people of seal disturbance

What Are We At Behaviour Change Cornwall are Doing

Despite being curious and intelligent seals are vulnerable during interactions due to our misunderstanding of their behaviour – our campaign aims to educate coast walkers and water-users at the point they are most likely to encounter seals – using our behavioural ‘Give Seals Space’ signs at the beach to educate visitors on seal behaviour via a helpful traffic light behavioural image of ‘happy’, ‘worried’ and ‘disturbed’ seals to help encourage good behaviour in us humans

We want to see more protection of both seals and their habitats through increasing public education, actual enforcement of wildlife crimes and removal of harmful fishing gear. 

Whilst we do our part, without enforcement of laws against disturbance and harm that exist it’s an uphill battle against the most egregious offenders – whether members of the public or businesses not practising responsible seal viewing. 

Reduce wildlife disturbance is in the interest of all involved – otherwise the environmental, social and economic benefits of Cornwall’s Wildlife could soon disappear along with the seals.

We hope our campaign will raise vital awareness ahead of the summer season and help protect some of our most treasured marine wildlife.

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