The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
Police plea after walker causes beach stampede
Wildlife: Man ‘filmed’ terrified seals in distress
Hundreds of seals, including young pups, were sent into a terrified stampede this week after a man decided to walk straight through their off-limits Aberdeenshire colony while filming their distress on his phone.
The seal haul-out at the mouth of the Ythan Estuary has enjoyed special protection under the Marine Scotland Act 2010 since 2017, making it a criminal offence to disturb the gentle mammals.
Human interference can cause the animals to stampede into the water, potentially crushing tiny juveniles in the process, among other problems, and anyone proven to have caused a disturbance can face a £5,000 fine, or even time behind bars.
This week, a visitor to the beach, near Newburgh, spotted a man strolling straight through the colony and causing a panicked rush into the water.
The visitor sent the video to the Ythan Seal Watch group, which believes it is “by far one of the most deliberate acts we’ve ever seen filmed”.
Lee Watson from the group said: “Locals who are still able to go for exercise on the beach are able to keep an eye out for us for any bad behaviour, and this video was sent to us by a concerned visitor.
“I’ve seen a fair few videos and you can always tell if someone does or does not know what they’re doing, and this guy absolutely knew.
“He takes out his phone and proceeds to walk through the entire colony.
“The man had numerous options to walk away or avoid the seals and he took none of them. He’s really gone out of his way to disturb them.
“It’s not uncommon for seals to become seriously injured or worse in stampedes like this man caused.”
Police have been made aware of the incident.
PC Douglas Darling, a wildlife crime officer, said: “It is understandable that people want to watch the wildlife which lives in our waters and on the coastline but it is vitally important this is done responsibly and without disturbing the animals.
“We would recommend that anyone watching marine wildlife keep their distance and follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code.
“I encourage anyone witnessing a suspected crime to contact police on 101.”