Tourists warned about swimming with seals

Seal Image copyright Chris Oates
Image caption People flocking to be near the seals could be injured if the seals misinterpreted an action, said Gill Bell of the Marine Conservation Society

Holidaymakers have been warned to keep away from wild seals amid concerns the animals "could take a child's arm off".

The number of people swimming with seals in St Ives, Cornwall has risen over the past few years, said harbour master Steve Bassett.

Now he has put up warning signs around the harbour at the tourist hotspot.

One expert said that "powerful" male seals could be very territorial and females would protect their young if they felt threatened.

More on the seals warning, plus more Devon and Cornwall news

Image copyright Chris Oates
Image caption Seals have been drawn into the harbour at St Ives by the prospect of food, said the harbour master
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Media captionSt Ives harbour master warns about swimming with seals

Mr Bassett said feeding seals could end in severe injury.

"I'm afraid that some day someone will lose an arm," he said.

"If seals are both going for territory they can be extremely aggressive.

"And when a hand comes out towards them they will thinks that's food."

Image copyright Chris Oates
Image caption Harbour master Steve Bassett has put up warning signs amid fears the seals will bite an onlooker who gets too close

The number of people swimming with the seals had increased to a point where he felt he needed to put out the warning signs.

"God forbid something should happen, but one day a seal is going to feel trapped and bite back," he said.

"Seals are massive and the power they have in their jaws is unbelievable."

He said seals were being drawn to the harbour by the prospect of food.

"It encourages them and I dread that something will happen," he said.

Image copyright Chris Oates
Image caption The number of people going into the water to be near the seals has risen said the harbour master

Seal expert Gill Bell, head of conservation at the Marine Conservation Society in Wales, said wild creatures should not be interfered with.

"You would not allow a child to approach a wild dog with food, so why allow them to approach a seal?

"Seals are like toddlers, they will put anything in their mouth."

She added that seals carried diseases which were highly infectious to humans so even a small bite could cause serious harm.

"You should never swim over to where they are because that's when you get issues," she said.

"The main concern is that they could misinterpret an action as a supposed threat.

"They are very gorgeous to look at and that's what we should be doing, looking at them and not getting close to them."

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