Pictures of a seal with its head caught in blue plastic have sparked debate about plastic bag use.

Martyn Cannan, from Paignton in Devon, was walking near Brixham Harbour on January 12 when he spotted the animal.

He told the Press Association: “We were watching the harbour and then the seal appeared caught up in the bag and started to attract a crowd.

“I initially took the photo because we were going to contact a charity and ask for advice, but after about 15 minutes it popped back up and it had cleared the bag itself.”

Mr Cannan’s photo was shared on Facebook by the Tor Bay Authorities and Beaches page, and sparked a debate about plastic use.

One poster suggested plastic bag laws should be tightened, and said: “Just bring in a policy by 2021; all plastic bags banned. Shops will use paper ones.”

Another person added: “Shops should use paper one, they do in Spain and other European countries and have in America for a long time.”

However, some suggested that the seal was not in trouble, and advised people to be more pro-active in cleaning waters.

One suggested: “The seal is more clever than we think, it was probably playing with the bag as a means of entertainment, it’s not going to get stuck in it.

“If anyone who has complained about this wants to go down into that marina and clear it then be our guest.”

Mr Cannan was delighted that his picture had encouraged people to talk about conservation.

He said: “I think it’s excellent. If one photo can raise awareness, and stop one person throwing one piece of plastic in the sea, then it’s job done as far as I’m concerned.

“When something like this happens in your own back yard, you realise that it’s happening here and now.”

Earlier this week, seals were also photographed in Norfolk having been caught up in plastic waste.

Pictures captured by a local photographer in Winterton showed one animal with a blue netting around its neck.

Other images from the county taken before Christmas show another animal with its head caught in a frisbee.

Richard Harrington, head of communications for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “This is sadly something that happens all too often – marine mammals caught in all manner of single-use plastics from bags, to drinks can yokes, discarded fishing line to commercial strapping.

“Since the 5p single-use carrier bag charge was introduced, our Great British Beach Clean data has shown a drop in plastic bag numbers found on surveyed beaches by almost 50%.

“The Government is set to consult on extending that charge to cover all shops in England and increasing it to 10p, we hope that change will be made and Martyn’s image will become a thing of the past.

“We would urge everyone to take part in the consultation when it is launched.”