Loch Fleet: Watersport visitors urged not to take selfies with seals at beauty spot in Scottish Highlands
Signs saying “do not feed the animals” are a common site in parks and zoos – but watersport visitors to a loch in the Highlands are now being discouraged from taking selfies with seals.
The warning comes after a series of recent incidents.
According to NatureScot, a paddleboarder was reported to have landed on a sandbank at Loch Fleet to try to take personal snaps with the seals.
The agency is now warning people not to get too close and avoid disturbing the animals at this time of year while harbour seals have pups who could be separated from their mothers and be abandoned, stranded or orphaned.
If people are also rushing to see killer whales, not realising there may be a seal haul-out below or in front of them, the seals can flush into the water while the predator approaches, leaving them without any chance of escape.
Adam Rose, NatureScot’s Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve manager, said: “We don’t usually have an issue with watersports, but there has been a surge in use of paddleboards, canoes and kayaks on the loch since lockdown eased.
“With the combination of summer holidays, good weather, lots of places to launch at Loch Fleet and the short distance to seal haul-out sites on the nature reserve, we’re really concerned about how the seals could be affected.
“We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it. We’re asking people to stay well clear of the seal haul-out sites.
“The best place to watch the seals is from the shore at the laybys near Skelbo Castle.
“If you are out on the water then stay at least 150 metres away and if one or two heads come up, that means you’re close enough.
“The tide and currents can be very strong on Loch Fleet, so take particular care if you’re out on the water.”
Paddleboards, kayaks and canoes may disturb seals more than motorised boats because seals will be unaware until they are too close.
With a motorised boat, seals will often hear the engine and start to react from a greater distance, giving the boat operator time to stop and back off if needed.