How does the law protect seals?

What is the law that governs the protection of seals?

Seals are protected by the Conservation of Seals Act 1970.

Is the killing of seals prohibited?

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 does not prohibit the killing of seals. However, it does regulate the way in which seals are killed in the following ways:

Prohibited methods of killing seals

It is a criminal offence under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 to use or attempt to use, for the purpose of killing or taking a seal, a poisonous substance or to use or attempt to use, for the purpose of killing, injuring or taking a seal, a firearm other than a rifle using ammunition having a muzzle energy of not less than 600 footpounds and a bullet weighing not less than 45 grains.

Close seasons for seals

There is an annual close season for grey seals (seals of the species known as Halichoerus grypus) extending from 1 September to 31 December.

There is an annual close season for common seals (seals of the species known as Phoca vitulina) extending from 1 June to 31 August.

It is a criminal offence to wilfully kill, injure or take a seal during the close season or to attempt to do so.

Orders prohibiting the killing of seals

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 gives the Secretary of State the power to make an order prohibiting the killing, injuring or taking of seals in an area where such an order is necessary for the proper conservation of seals.

Since the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 was passed the Secretary of State has made a number of such orders.

It is a criminal offence to wilfully kill, injure or take a seal in contravention of any such order made or to attempt to do so.

What defences are available?

The following defences are available to a person charged with a criminal offence under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970:

  • where a person takes or attempts to take a seal which had been disabled otherwise than by that person’s act and the seal was taken or is to be taken solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled;
  • where the killing or injuring of a seal was unavoidable as an incidental result of a lawful action;
  • where the killing or attempted killing of a seal was done to prevent it from causing damage to a fishing net or fishing tackle in the person’s possession or in the possession of a person at whose request the seal was killed or an attempt to kill the seal was carried out, provided that at the time the seal was in the vicinity of such net or tackle;
  • where a person kills a seal which had been so seriously disabled otherwise than by that person’s act that there was no reasonable chance of it recovering;
  • where a person has a licence to carry out the act.

What powers does the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 give to the police?

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 gives the police the power to stop a person and search any vehicle or boat which they may be using where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person is committing an offence under the Act. The police also have the power to arrest a person if they fail to give their name and address to the police.

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 gives the police the power to seize any seal, seal skin, firearm, ammunition or poisonous substance found and the power to sell or dispose of any seal seized.

What powers does the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 give to the Courts?

Where a criminal offence is committed the Court has the power to fine the person guilty of the offence. The Court can also order the forfeiture of any seal or seal skin in respect of which the offence was committed or any seal, seal skin, firearm, ammunition or poisonous substance found in a person’s possession at the time of the offence.

What other powers does the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 give to the Secretary of State?

Licences

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 gives the Secretary of State the power to grant a licence to a person authorising that person to commit acts which would otherwise be prohibited by the Act. A licence can be granted for the following purposes:

  • for scientific or educational purposes;
  • for the purposes of any zoological gardens or collection;
  • for the prevention of damage to fisheries;
  • for the reduction of a population surplus of seals for management purposes;
  • for the use of a population surplus of seals as a resource;
  • for the protection of flora or fauna.

Entry upon land

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 gives the Secretary of State the power to authorise a person to go onto land for the purpose of obtaining information relating to seals and to kill or take seals for the purpose of preventing damage to fisheries by seals.