Approaching seals for selfies means Yorkshire's seals face increased risk of premature death, say conservation experts

Three quarters of the Yorkshire coast’s seal population do not live past one year as the mammals face increased risks from humans approaching them for selfies or dog attacks, conservationists say.

Approaching seals on beaches for photographs can cause distress and even injury if they feel they need to escape, conservationists say

The Yorkshire Seal Group is lobbying for the Government to make it illegal to disturb seals while resting on UK coasts as the animals face increased endangerment.

Currently, in England, the law only protects seals from direct injury from humans, but conservation groups are petitioning to outlaw disturbances. They have pointed out that, whilst disturbing dolphins and whales is illegal in UK waters, disturbing seals is not, despite them frequenting beaches and coastlands.

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Filey-based Yorkshire Seal Group has said it has seen numerous incidents in recent weeks of seals injuring themselves trying to escape people encroaching on them for pictures, while the distress it causes them can also reportedly affect their health.

Approaching seals on beaches for photographs can cause distress and even injury if they feel they need to escape, conservationists say

The group’s co-founder Matt Barnes told The Yorkshire Post that more people were “seeking them out” for pictures after being inspired by pictures on social media.

He said: “Many tourists think they are going to get some National Geographic-type shot on a camera phone, when the reality is that most of the time those pictures are taken on high-quality zoom lenses by professionals, not on a Samsung. Then they end up compensating by encroaching on seals’ space.

“People don’t tend to be familiar with seals’ behaviour when feeling threatened.

“Around half of all seals on UK coasts do not make it to their first year - in Yorkshire that figure is three quarters. That disparity is made up by the added pressure of human impact.”

Approaching seals on beaches for photographs can cause distress and even injury if they feel they need to escape, conservationists say

Earlier this month, Humberside Police issued a warning after two climbers reportedly abseiled from the ‘Drinking Dinosaur’ point at Flamborough Head to take photographs of the seals. Their presence, officers said, caused a "high level of disturbance to their natural behaviour", with the seals retreating to the sea.

Mr Barnes added that seals already are threatened by risk of entanglement from netting and pollution.

“We can’t save every seal, but we can reduce our impact on these wonderful animals,” he said.

The petition to outlaw seal disturbance in the UK has already reached more than 10,000 signatures.

Its creation came after Freddie the seal on the Thames bank in London died following injuries sustained by a dog in March this year.

Seals in Scotland are protected from disturbance under an amendment to the law, although not in England.

“This is about educating people,” said Matt Barnes of the Yorkshire Seal Group.

“Seals come to our shores to rest after hunting, with fish becoming more scarce they do not need people waking them or having to escape back to the water just because somebody wants a picture.”