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Cornwall's population of grey seals at risk from human activity

The UK has 34% of the world's grey seal population. Credit: ITV News West Country

Thousands of rare seals along the Cornwall coast are at risk of death from human activity, according to research by an animal charity.

The Seal Alliance say there has been a dramatic rise in cases, and warn of the "shocking" consequences for the grey seal population.

Figures show that the number of seals disturbed has almost doubled over the last seven years - from 800 cases in 2011 to around 1600 last year.

And with thousands of people heading for their summer holidays in Cornwall, the charity is calling for people to be more aware.

In a letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the charity calls for marine wildlife disturbance to be made a crime.

The UK has 34% of the world's grey seal population, yet there are still more red squirrels in the UK than there are grey seals.

The Seal Alliance's report - called 'Do not disturb!' - says the public must take more care when they are enjoying the coastline.

Seals try to escape by 'tomb-stoning' or 'stampeding' . Credit: ITV News West Country

Seals go onto land for vital rest, breeding and malting. Research shows when the seals are disturbed by human activity, they are spooked into going back into the water prematurely. This not only wastes their energy and disturbs their much needed rest, but often puts them in danger.

In most cases, seal disturbance is unintentional. The Seal Alliance are highlighting that people don't understand the effects of disturbing a seal prematurely back into the sea.

Which activities can disturb seals?

  • Getting too close on coastal walks
  • Dogs off leads
  • Kayaks
  • Yachts
  • Tripper boats
  • Snorkellers
  • Drones
  • Microlights
  • Helicopters
  • Paddle-boarders
  • Anglers
  • Wildlife photographers
  • Jet-skis
  • People trying to feed seals
  • Motorised vessels

If a seal is looking at you repeatedly, you are too close. You just need to back off.

– Sue Sayer, Director of Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust

The research shows that seals try to escape by two methods which put them in danger - 'tomb-stoning' and 'stampeding'.

Tomb-stoning is when seals jump off rocks to escape danger. This can often be fatal.

Stampeding is when a herd of seals are spooked and rush over rocks to get back to the sea, leading to the seals suffering serious cuts.

Getting too close to a seal could have devastating affects.

Grey seals in Cornwall are our globally rare speciality species. If we want people to look after African Elephants so we can go and see them on safari, then we have a reciprocal responsibility here to do the same for our grey seals.

– Sue Sayer, Director of Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust

Injuries from both escape methods can lead to a lifetime of suffering or death. Once a seal goes back into the sea they cannot be rescued.

One of the main dangers to seals is posed by kayaks, which they mistake for their natural predators - like orcas or killer whales.

It isn't just humans who pose a threat to seals.

Where are the most sensitive sites in the West Country?

If a seal is looking at you repeatedly, you are too close. Credit: ITV News West Country

It is already a criminal offence to disturb seals on some of the important sights that are protected by the Special Site of Scientific Interest.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEO CONTAINS UPSETTING FOOTAGE

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