People who take selfies with seals are fuelling the abandonment of pups, a charity has warned, amid a rise of wildlife disturbances on Britain's coastlines.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said visitors to the Yorkshire coastline had been disturbing seals, leaving them in need of rescue.
Uncontrolled dogs, drones and coastal explorers were the top culprits for upsetting the animals, which can abandon their pups if disturbed, leaving them to fend for themselves.
The charity said it had received a “concerning” number of calls and issued a notice to holidaymakers warning them to steer clear.
Matt Barnes, an MCS volunteer, said: "Seals are very vulnerable to disturbance, which upsets their routine of feeding and digestion, increases their use of energy, raises their stress levels and means they are more likely to injure themselves”.
Mr Barnes said the lifting of lockdown in the UK but extended coronavirus travel restrictions had led to an influx of people looking for a domestic holiday.
Figures released last month showed as many as a third of Britons planned a “staycation” to avoid the difficulty of travel bans.
"This has manifested in people seeking 'seal selfies', having uncontrolled dogs off the leads, drones, water craft and coastal explorers disturbing vital haul out sites," Mr Barnes said.
The pupping season has now begun, making it even more important that people stay away from seals with dogs or drones, MCS said.
Seal pupping season begins in the autumn and lasts through to the winter.
The seal pups are born covered in fluffy white fur, and can grow by as much as 30kg in two weeks by drinking two and a half litres of milk every day.
The MCS is not the first organisation to express concerns about seal safety amid a boom in tourist numbers after the end of the COvid-19 lockdown.
The RSPCA and Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews have both raised the issue and urged the public to be vigilant.
A search for the hashtag “#sealselfie” on Instagram returns hundreds of results, many of which show tourists getting close to the animals on UK coastlines.
Horsey Gap in Norfolk and Ravenscar, Yorkshire were two of the most popular places to secure a photo with a seal.
In the past few weeks, seal pups have had to be rescued from Filey and Bridlington, both popular Yorkshire beaches, after their mothers left them to fend for themselves.
The RSPCA reported that selfie-hunters forced an injured seal back into the water in Dorset in November, requiring a rescue operation from the charity.
The calls for more protection of the animals have led to a change in Government policy.
Last month, the Telegraph reported that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had stepped up protection measures for UK seal colonies out of concern for their pups.
Government officers have been visiting popular spots and advising the public to stay away from them.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We take the protection of our native seals very seriously, and the Marine Management Organisation has recently strengthened measures to ensure their protection.”
The spokesperson added any evidence of negative impacts on the survival of the seals is low.
Seals in the UK are protected in law by the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.
They cannot be killed except for in specific circumstances and grey seals cannot be hunted during the “closed season” that runs from September 1 to December 31.
UK law specifically bans poisoning seals, while under an EU-wide diktat, it is also illegal to import and market all seal products.