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Paddling safely near native seal populations

The Seal Research Trust wants the public to understand how sensitive our native seal populations when approached.

Grey Seal Mum And Pup  Credit Aaron Pattison Getty Images

Grey seal with pup. (c) Aaron Pattison

British Canoeing is working with the charity to help paddlers enjoy seal watching but in a safe way for the animals.

Just getting too close to a colony, especially in the pupping season, can result in a stress hormone being released.

This is a waste of energy for the animals and can endanger unborn pups. It can also often result in injury which can be fatal several months later.

The charity said impacts on our native seals are "mostly invisible and often delayed."

The charity produced a report for Defra, in 2021, which showed that in Cornwall, over five years, seals were at worst disturbed once every 18 minutes.

Graphics Social Media 3 Signs Of Disturbance

The Seal Research Trust have a wealth of advice about behaviour around seals. (C) Seal Research Trust

Disturbance was caused by a number of recreational users.

"Imagine a stranger unexpectedly entering your bedroom and waking you up every 18 minutes and how this would make you feel the next day," said Sue Sayer, from the Trust.

Advice for encounters with seals

  • Minimise your time with seals at sea, ideally less than 15 minutes. Any more and you may distract them from feeding and resting.

  • Always avoid being in the sea anywhere near to seals on land. About 100 metres is the minimum.

  • If seals are on rocks, again keep a safe distance, if they stampede or 'tombstone' into the water they can suffer from grazed flippers, ripped out claws, gashes or broken jaws and ribs.

  • Let curiosity be the ONLY reason for the seals to visit you. You MUST always let seals be in control of their encounter with you. 

Click here for more ways you can help.

Richard Atkinson, British Canoeing's Access & Environment Lead, said: "It’s great that British Canoeing are working directly with the Seal Research Trust.

"We want to provide important information to the paddling community to ensure watching seals is an enjoyable experience as well as protecting them around our beautiful coastline."

Graphics Social Media 1 Give Seals Space

Seals, while curious, should be viewed from a good distance. (C) Seal Research Group