Shocking video shows moment irresponsible runner causes stampede of 100 seals on the Yorkshire coast
Yorkshire Seal Watch members were left in shock after the incident on the morning of January 6 on the beach at Ravenscar, near Robin Hood's Bay, in which they claimed the runner was also verbally abusive to a 'seal steward'.
The man was spoken to by a steward at the clifftop and warned not to approach the seal colony, which included nursing mothers with pups, but refused the guidance and said he was 'not interested' in the animals' welfare.
The group claimed the runner also swore at the volunteer.
In the footage, he can be seen running towards the seals, causing them to scatter towards the sea in a large stampede.
Yorkshire Seal Watch say that disturbance to seals leaves them at risk of injury and even death due to depleting their energy reserves.
A statement from the group read: "Whilst the majority of Yorkshire coast residents and visitors are polite and supportive of our work, our seal stewards unfortunately still deal with an ignorant and abusive minority who disrespect our shores and iconic wildlife.
"The runner shown in this video was engaged by our stewards at one of our sensitive sites to offer advice on how best to access the shore to minimise disturbance to the hauled-out seals. He stated 'I am not interested and you can f*** off)'.
"He proceeded to the intertidal zone with haste, causing a severe stampede of over 100 resting seals, some of whom were pups and still maternally dependent. This level of disregard and lack of ocean literacy undoubtedly caused numerous injuries to the fleeing seals and may take the life of some of our pups who have suffered horrendous mortality rates following Storm Arwen already.
"All the seals impacted by this disturbance event would have, at the very least, depleted their energy reserves escaping the threat, and did not return by the end of the day, including the mothers that were weaning pups. The runner was last seen running on the beach at 10.50am on January 6 moving in the direction towards Boggle Hole and Robin Hood's Bay. We ask all our supporters to share these sorts of posts to raise awareness as to the plight of our iconic seals and in a bid to identify the individual for police to follow up."
Although as grey and common seals are protected by law it is illegal to kill or injure one in England, no legislation exists against disturbance caused by humans and dogs. Marine conservation groups are campaigning for the law to be updated, and this is expected to be confirmed later this year.
Scottish laws have already been revised to include a new offence for reckless or intentional harassment of seals.
Yorkshire Seal Watch founder Matt Barnes said North Yorkshire Police have an agreement with the group that when registration numbers of offenders are passed to them, they will visit the suspect's home address and give them advice on appropriate behaviour around wildlife under Operation Seabird, though they cannot make arrests.
Mr Barnes added: "We have a high mortality rate at the moment, around three-quarters of pups die before they are even weaned. Some of that is due to storm surges but a lot of it is because of drones, dogs and inconsiderate people taking selfies. We try and limit our calls to the police, but they will knock on doors if we manage to get someone's vehicle registration number. This man was offered an alternative route past the seals which everyone else took that day, but was dismissive and abusive."