A shocking video shows seal colonies stampeding in panic as a result of irresponsible animal lovers getting close to take pictures.
The disturbing footage was shot at Forvie Nature Reserve, near Newburgh, during the mating season, when it is illegal to harass the mammals.
The images show members of the public sneaking up on seals by foot, kayak, and even an air boat, causing hundreds of animals to dash for the water.
Footage shows two women who tried to hide in tall grass to get close to the colony at the Ythan Estuary.
Earlier this year, Holyrood’s environment committee made it an offence to harass the mammals, some of whom may be on the shore giving birth. Stampedes can result in the youngsters being crushed or abandoned.
Despite punishments of up to six months in jail or a fine up to £5,000, the footage suggests many visitors are ignoring warning signs telling them to keep away during the annual seal “haul-outs” for breeding and giving birth.
Posting on their official Facebook page on Tuesday, Ythan Seal Watch Team, wrote: “First weekend of a designated seal haul-out and there are already visitors causing stampedes.
“We film everything at the beach the seals are on.
“Claiming to not have read signs or choosing to ignore them is no longer an excuse for doing this.
“The designation covers it through reckless actions. It is now a wildlife crime. There were lots of visitors arriving at the reserve car park and not even reading signs. We highly recommend visitors do.
“The visitors in the pictures caused stampedes entering the beach or hanging around it. We also have the video for these images.”
The site, home to around 3,000 seals, was protected by a small team of volunteers until March this year when the Scottish Government backed plans to make it a designated seal haul-out zone. It is now a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly harass the seals within the designated site.
Annabel Drysdale, SNH’s Forvie NNR manager, said: “We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it.
“So we’d ask people to go to the beach at Newburgh, where you can get a better view without accidentally disturbing the seals.
“If you are visiting Forvie and come across seals on the beach, stay at least 150 metres away and if one or two heads come up, that means you’re close enough.”