St. Mary’s Island, a small sandstone island located near Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, England, has always been a traditional rest and breeding ground for seals.
Despite its status as a Local Nature Reserve, this minor seal sanctuary has increasingly come under risk because of the influx of human beings in the area.
A local animal welfare group called St. Mary’s Seal Watch (SMSW) released disturbing footage that they had filmed showing seals flinging themselves off a cliff as they sought to avoid tourists. What’s even more troubling is that over the course of 70 days the group had recorded over 1,500 similar incidents in the area.
To be fair, the North Tyneside Council clearly warns tourists against disturbing the seals. However, this hasn’t stopped people from trying to get close in order to get some selfies with the wild animals.
This practice startles the seals who aren’t used to such a close human presence. And unfortunately, the only way out for them is by flinging themselves off the cliff into the sea.
The problem is that seals who do this expose themselves to serious injury. A seal can fall on its head or injure its spine as a result of the fall among the hard rocks. In fact, the video shows at least one seal that seems to have suffered an injury from the fall.
In an interview with The Dodo, SMSW said, “Pregnant females carry their pup in their bellies and rushing over rocks means bouncing on their pups, which can lead to medical complications that can be fatal for both mother and pup.”
The group says that the nearby lighthouse, which was constructed in 1898, was already a disturbing presence that the seals had never gotten used to. But what alarms the group, even more, are the plans to expand the lighthouse facilities.
Aside from the seals losing some land area, the expansion also brings the prospect of more tourists that can send the seals into flight.
SMSW also doubts the claims that the seals will learn to adapt to the increased presence of humans. After all, the lighthouse has been there for more than a century yet the seals are still easily spooked.
Furthermore, SMSW has determined that majority of the seals on the island are juveniles in their first year. As such, they do not have the time to become accustomed to humans.
The group further adds that “returning seals show no sign of becoming accustomed to the already existing audible and visual disturbance.”
The worst-case scenario that SMSW fears is that the seals may simply decide to abandon the site permanently in order to avoid humans.
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