Seals are one of the cutest marine mammals around, with big round eyes that melt hearts everywhere. But they’re also being killed off fast by so-called “silent” water sports like kayaks, paddleboards, and wild swimming, especially in the British county of Cornwall. Lacking any kind of engine to warn seals of their presence, crafts like kayaks essentially sneak up on seals — terrifying them into a panic-filled overdrive that often leads to death.
An intense flight response sets in when skittish wild seals realize humans have gotten too close, so they flee as fast as possible. This can involve stampeding — running over rocky shorelines to get back to the water — and tombstoning — abruptly jumping down into the water from tall heights. Both can cause serious damage. Stampeding often results in lacerations and open wounds, while tombstoning can literally break seals’ bodies, including their jaws and ribs. On top of that, disturbances can lead to miscarriage in pregnant mamas. In fact, researchers have noticed fewer pups being born during the chief pupping season.
We’re not trying to stop all people from ever paddleboarding or kayaking again! As Sue Sayer, the founder and director of Seal Research Trust, says: “We just want people to give seals space.” But we’ll need government help to ensure that happens. Tell Cornish authorities to implement strict regulations, including clearing out beaches, during the seal pupping season in order to save the seals.