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Environmentalists warn of threat to seals and dolphins this summer

19 August 2021

Environmentalists are sounding the alarm over threats to marine wildlife this summer, warning that holidaymakers could threaten seals and other animals if they get too close.

In a new briefing paper published today, the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition, which includes Humane Society International, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and RSPCA, highlight seals and coastal dolphins as being most at risk.

The coalition group say that the UK has a number of excellent places where marine mammals can be watched from the land or via organised watching tours and these animals are hugely valuable to the local coastal communities.

Their paper shows that, in a normal year, coastal tourism in Great Britain generates an estimated £17.1bn in spending, supporting 285,000 tourism related jobs and surveys have found that for 71% of respondents listed watching wildlife as either the sole, a very or a fairly important reason for taking a recent trip.

The coalition found that “seal watching could provide an economic boost for coastal communities” and that “evidence appears to show that visitors place a high value on seeing seals in the wild”. However, it also warns that the Government must do much more to provide adequate protection to the animals which make this possible. They are calling for greater action on underwater noise, deaths in fishing gear, marine litter and disturbances by boats and certain tourists.

Mark Simmonds OBE, chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link Marine Mammals Group and Senior Marine Scientist with the Humane Society International said:

“Our marine mammals are a valuable asset and it’s important that the Government step up their actions to protect them.

“Members of the public can help too by keeping a sensible distance from seals of at least 100m and using binoculars and long lenses to view and photo them. We want people to be aware of the harm that inappropriate actions can cause to these much loved animals, which can even be lethal to them.

“Similarly, it’s important people keep a distance from dolphins and don’t chase them with boats. If you see a seal or dolphin injured or in distress let the local or national animal welfare organisation know.”

The coalition highlights that common seals are now in pupping season, nursing their pups on land and requiring little disturbance for this to be successful. They warn that people approaching seals may scare them and, at worse, the whole seal group may stampede into the water, likely resulting in injuries.

Seals face numerous challenges and a 2019 count in the large South-East England Seal Management Unit (SMU) was 27.6% lower than the mean of the previous 5 years, showing that the population is facing worrying decline.

A rise in marine life disturbances, and the predicted rise in visitor numbers to our coastlines due to the stay local messages this summer, have also led to the creation of the Operation Seabird (#opseabird) campaign which has been designed to educate and inform visitors to our coastlines about disturbing wildlife.

In addition, the group warns that at this time of year, it is common to hear of dolphins being harassed by fast moving water vessels. Dolphins must come to the surface every few minutes to breathe and cannot outswim a wetbike or other fast-moving vessel. They caution that irresponsible water sports could result in dolphins being hit and injured by vessels chasing them.

The coalition argues that if the right actions are taken “seals present a golden opportunity for coastal areas to benefit from wildlife tourism and their true economic value should be recognised by decision makers”, and that the Government should act “to better protect these much-loved and charismatic animals”.