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Photographing seals

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Category: Industry News

Seal vs the photographer - Is photographers getting too close to seals an increasing problem?

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There have been recent reports that photographers are endangering the seals at Donna Nook by going onto the beach to photograph the outer colony. According to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, death rates of grey seal pups at the outer colony were now six times higher than at the fenced-off main colony. Despite a polite "Do you really need to go onto the beach?" sign on the entrance to the beach it hasn't deterred photographers and it seems the problem isn't just isolated to the East Coast.

Edward Stubbings, Coastal Warden for Blakeney Point said: "Horsey beach, in East Norfolk, is more accessible and therefore gets more problems with photographers."

Blakeney Point however is just about remote enough to have no real problems apart from in the summer when seals haul out on intertidal sand near Blakeney Point. Here, the National Trust have no jurisdiction and there are no restrictions on access so they do see disturbance to the seals here, but mostly by walkers with dogs.

The problem doesn’t just seem to be restricted to the UK either as Edward states: "I recently visited Helgoland in Northern Germany and was a bit shocked at how close the photographers were getting and at the lack of restrictions on this.

There have been studies that show that seals that are constantly disturbed enough to flop away cause damage to their bellies by the constant rubbing. The seals on Helgoland didn't seem too distressed and weren't flopping away but were kept constantly alert by the photographers and couldn't relax properly."

He continues: "My personal view on this is that they should be given as much space as possibly to live natural lives, restrictions should be strictly followed, and that photographers should know the signs of disturbance and react accordingly.

When a seal is distressed it will show the whites of its eyes, then it will either try and attack the intruder (in the breeding season - summer for common, winter for greys) or flop away. I also think that it is an increasing problem."

November's one of the best times for photographing seals however, if you do head to the coast for a spot of seal photography you can get great shots and keep your distance with a little work and by taking your time. Take a look at our article if you’re looking for some advice.

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