It was a busy Bank Holiday weekend for the volunteers who respond to reports of seals being in distress. Overwhelmingly, it is disturbance by humans and dogs that accounts for the majority of the call outs.
Juvenile seals regularly haul themselves out of the sea at night and use the sands of Filey Bay as a much needed resting place. Whilst the majority return to the sea before the first people visit the beach, some seals, suffering from exhaustion, need more time to recuperate. In the vast majority of cases this is the scenario visitors to the beach are likely to come across. Please do not attempt to return them to the sea. In a recent well-meaning incident, someone tried to drag a seal into the sea by its tail. Needless to say, this caused huge stress to the seal and was completely pointless, as the seal would have returned to the sea on the next tide.
The Yorkshire Seal Group offer good advice on what to do when encountering a seal on the beach. As they note, it is usual for seals to rest on the beach, so any disturbance can cause stress, uses up valuable energy reserves and, in extreme cases, can result in injury or the death of the seal.
The group has categorised seal disturbance in three categories: level 1 when the seal is looking at you; level 2 is when the seal begins to move away; and level 3 is when it retreats, sometimes in panic, to the sea.
It is vital that in particular dogs are kept under control when seals are around. One seal on the bank holiday weekend was chased into the sea by a dog. The stress caused to the seal will have been immense, but it should be remembered that a frightened seal can also injure a dog.
If you wish to watch seals, please keep your distance, use binoculars and, if possible, remain up wind of the seals so as to not disturb them. Sadly, some visitors took seal selfies in recent months, in another incident someone flew a drone near a group of seals, it should hardly need saying that both are utterly stupid ideas. Do not to try to feed the seals. Most of all, take your litter home. In another recent incident, an abandoned BBQ set fire to vegetation and the smoke caused 100 seals to panic and rush into the sea.
Please be kind to the wild creatures that share our lovely bay. If you do come across imperilled seals, there is a 24 hour phone number: the British Divers Marine Life Rescue 01825765546. For reporting disturbance, or dead seals, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Matt Barnes on 07794 695607