A SHOCKING video shows seal colonies stampeding in panic as a result of irresponsible animal lovers getting close to take pictures.
The disturbing footage was shot on an Aberdeenshire beach during the mating season, when it is illegal to harrass the mammals.
The images show members of the public sneaking up on seals by foot, kayak, and even an air boat, causing hundreds of animals to dash for the water.
Remarkable footage shows two women who tried to hide in tall grass to get close to the colony at Ythan Estuary on the Forvie Nature Reserve.
Earlier this year, Holyrood’s environment committee made it an offence to harass the mammals, some of whom may be on the shore giving birth. Stampedes can result in the youngsters being crushed or abandoned.
Despite punishments of up to six months in jail or a fine up to £5,000, the footage proves many selfish visitors to the area are ignoring warning signs telling them to keep away during the annual seal “haul-outs” for breeding and giving birth.
Posting on their official Facebook page on Tuesday, Ythan Seal Watch Team, wrote: “First weekend of a designated seal haul-out and there are already visitors causing stampedes.
“We film EVERYTHING at the beach the seals are on.
“Claiming to not have read signs or choosing to ignore them is no longer an excuse for doing this.
“The designation covers it through reckless actions. Its is now a wildlife crime. There were lots of visitors arriving at the reserve car park and not even reading signs. We HIGHLY recommend visitors do.
“The visitors in the pictures caused stampedes entering the beach or hanging around it. We also have the video for these images.
“It has taken a long time for these laws to come into effect and they are there for a reason. To protect the haul-out, not benefit the visitors to the reserve. The fact the beach has a fence or it is accessible makes no difference.
“Standing on top of the sand dune at the back of the haul-out has also caused issues with disturbance and that will also be reported. The designation protects the seals no matter what.
They added: “This is now a designated seal haul-out. Marine Scotland passed this on the 4th May.
“Harassment and disturbance leading to stampedes, weather it is reckless or intentional is now an offence. Anyone carrying out tours on the zone would risk exactly that.
“There are signs to advise the visitors of this and they are being ignored. All the signs in place up to then have also been ignored.
“We were on the beach behind the haul-out last year trying to prevent this until it came into effect.
“There were five white coat pups rescued from the reserve last year who were abandoned by their mothers following people disturbing the haul-out taking pictures.”
Outraged animal lovers have taken to the groups page to also share their frustration over the footage.
Rhona Ramsay said: “Utter blithering idiot.”
Hazel Taylor wrote: “If there’s one thing worse than people, it’s stupid people.
“There should be a licence to eradicate these people as, it seems, they just cannot be educated.”
And Rhona Lees said: “Bampots!”
The site, home to an around 3,000 seals, was protected by a small team of volunteers until March this year when the Scottish Government backed plans to make it a designated seal haul-out zone.
It is now a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly harass the seals within the designated site.
Earlier this year Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) also released a warning to the public telling them not to bother the seals after a series of incidents on the Ythan at Forvie National Nature Reserve.
Annabel Drysdale, SNH’s Forvie NNR manager, said:“We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it. So we’d ask people to go to the beach at Newburgh, where you can getter a better view without accidentally disturbing the seals.
“If you are visiting Forvie and come across seals on the beach, stay at least 150 metres away and if one or two heads come up, that means you’re close enough.”