Approaching seals can seriously harm the animals and distress them so much that that they react by biting.
Beach-goers and wildlife watchers have been warned off getting too close to seals after a marine rescue volunteer was bitten by a pup in Norfolk.
The man, who volunteers for Seal and Shore Watch UK — a local conservation charity that monitors the coastline from Sea Palling in Norfolk to Skegness in Lincolnshire — was called to Caister Beach, in Norfolk, to assist the pup, which looked really unwell.
As he removed the towel that was covering the seal’s face so the vet could examine its mouth, ‘he looked up for just one second,’ the charity writes on its Facebook page, and received ‘an extremely nasty, very deep bite’ that went right through the bone.
The volunteer needed to be treated for eight hours in Accident & Emergency and is now on a six-week antibiotic course to prevent the onset of an infection that, if left untreated, could require amputation.
Seal and Shore Watch UK and other marine conservationists are at pains to highlight that seal watching is best done from a distance to protect both visitors and the animals themselves. Seals are wild and proximity to people (and their dogs) can be very stressful for them.
Mothers can abandon their pups or not feed them adequately, dogs may transmit diseases or chased distressed animals into the water and, of course, the seals, feeling cornered, may react by biting. When they do, it is serious: their bites are as strong as those of a Rottweiler.
The Norfolk Coast Partnership advises visitors to stay at least 33 feet away from the animals— though some marine conservationists advocate keeping a much greater distance, of up to 330 feet — walking on the landward side (so the seals feel their way to the sea is clear) and moving on quickly; keeping dogs on a lead; and never approaching an animal even if it looks poorly or in trouble (it’s best to call a marine rescue group instead).
According to Seal and Shore UK, this has been a particularly difficult year for seal pups, which are often undernourished and suffering from lungworm and mouth infections, with many having to be put to sleep. The charity is seeking donations from the public to help cover vet costs. For more information, visit its Facebook page.