A SCOTTISH nature agency is urging people to keep their distance from seals after a series of recent incidents.
NatureScot wants the public to avoid harbour seals at this time of the year as they have pups which could be separated from their mothers if there is any disturbance.
At Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve (NNR) many cases of seals rushing off have been caused by paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists with one even attempting to take a selfie with the seals.
A mother seal separating from its pup can result in awful consequences such as becoming stranded, abandoned; or even orphaned.
Ben Ross, NatureScot’s Head of Protected Areas and Nature Reserves, said: “It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect these amazing assets, and we’d like to thank the vast majority of our visitors for caring for and protecting the environment and respecting others’ rights when they’re out in the countryside.
We’ve seen quite a difference so far this spring and summer, and encourage visitors to our nature reserves and to the countryside more widely to continue to play their part.”
Paddleboards, kayaks and canoes may disturb seals more than motorised boats, as seals cannot hear them until they are too close but dogs are also being asked to be kept on leads.
Many harbour seals use more isolated areas to pup but with the increase in water activities the remote areas are increasing in visitor numbers.
Adam Rose, NatureScot’s Loch Fleet NNR manager, said: “We don’t usually have an issue with water sports, but there has been a surge in use of paddleboards, canoes and kayaks on the loch since lockdown eased.
“With the combination of summer holidays, good weather, lots of places to launch at Loch Fleet and the short distance to seal haul-out sites on the nature reserve, we’re really concerned about how the seals could be affected.
“We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it. We’re asking people to stay well clear of the seal haul-out sites.
NatureScot released a list of tips to watch seals safely which includes be quiet, avoid sudden movements, leave lone pups alone and do not crowd the seals.