Jet-ski riders have been reported to Kent Police after repeatedly disturbing seals at Pegwell Bay.
The colony of seals, who are midway through their pupping season, were rushed into the water after the jet skiers revved their engines and rode at speed near the river mouth where the seals rest.
The ongoing disturbance, which has been taking place over several weeks, has been reported to Kent Police’s Rural Task Force, under Operation Seabird, an initiative aimed at combatting the disturbance of marine wildlife.
Kent Wildlife Trust’s Protected Area Warden, Nina Jones said: “This is not just anti-social behaviour, the actions of the jet ski riders have a significant impact on the welfare of the seals, who are in the process of giving birth and raising their pups.
“The seals rest on the sandbanks at Pegwell Bay but continued disturbance may result in their mothers seeking refuge in the water, preventing her from feeding her pup or potentially abandoning it altogether.
“It’s essential that we give space and share the shore with these protected animals.”
Seals can be disturbed easily and what may appear to be normal behaviour, like getting in and out of the sea, can have a significant impact on the marine mammal, causing them to struggle to put on weight or feed their pups. Repeated disturbance may result in injury from stampeding, they may gash their bellies on sharp rocks, tear their skin on sand or rip out their claws.
The upsurge in paddle boarding poses a particular risk to seals as they can approach animals quietly and get too close. Paddlers can help seals by paddling slowly and steadily, not stopping at a seal site, or getting too close.
A rise in the number of boat tour operators offering seal experiences has prompted Kent Wildlife Trust to encourage companies to complete WiSe training a scheme centered around watching marine wildlife in a wildlife-safe way. Operators learn how they can safely conduct tours without significantly impacting wildlife which is especially important for seals.
Nina added: “One of our Wilder Kent 2030 strategy goals is to engage with more people to do more for nature so we can protect 30% of Kent’s land and sea and by working with tour operators, the paddle board community and those enjoying our coastline for recreation we are all helping nature in our county thrive.”
Kent Police’s Rural Task Force has been working with partner agencies to make jet skiers aware of the impact of such incidents.
Sergeant Darren Walshaw of Kent Police’s Rural Task Force said: “Kent has a stunning shoreline in which protected species of birds and marine mammals thrive. We want everyone to enjoy Kent’s coast whilst ensuring that the natural habitat of these animals is respected.
“The most important thing people can do is keep their distance, from all marine mammals and seabirds. These species are sensitive to disturbance so if you come into contact with them, move away quietly.
“Those using boats or jet skis are asked to travel at a no-wake speed of under 5mph when near the cliffs and if you see groups of birds or colony of seals, slow down and go around them.”
Intentionally or recklessly disturbing wild animals, including marine mammals, is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
People can learn more about watching seals safely on Kent Wildlife Trust’s website.