Vidiot: Drone pilot provokes protected seals to stampede before filming self, then uploads

drone pilot seals

Score it as multiple stupids in a single act. A drone pilot flying over a Scottish nature reserve provoked scores of protected seals to stampede in fear – filming the mass flight before circling back for an overhead selfie of his group. Now the cops are checking images from the internet upload to cite the flier for violation of laws prohibiting harassment of wildlife.

Idyllic nature video goes bad when drone pilot frightens sleeping seals to stampede

The video initially features idyllic scenes of a large community of seals lounging on a sunny beach in Scotland’s Forvie nature reserve, about 12 miles north of Aberdeen. The area is one of several designated haul-out sites – protected spots where seals periodically clamber onto beaches en masse for extended periods to mate, give birth, or simply rest. Flying lower in progressive passes, however, the drone pilot eventually provokes the spooked seals to stampede, then films the spreading pandemonium before swinging back around for an overhead shots of the group. 

Were that not dumb enough, the video was then posted online.

Local residents and wildlife groups were outraged by the footage. Ythan Seal Watch, a group working to ensure the creatures in the area can thrive in peace, mounted an effort from its Facebook page to identify the offenders. Under Scottish law, they risk a $6,845 fine and six months prison sentence for wildlife harassment. The organization is clearly neither amused by the stunt, nor fooling around in wanting those responsible for it to be brought to book.

“[We] do not have the details for this visitor who was flying this drone and caused this stampede and we would very much like to identify them to Police Scotland,” the post reads, accompanied by the offending video. “If anyone can provide information on this incident or the visitor flying the drone but is reluctant to contact Police Scotland you can contact us in confidence and we will pass the information on along with what we have taken from social media. The visitor very kindly filmed themselves and we have a screen shot in the comment section. The pilot is seen using the controls.”


Smile… while you can

Drone pilots, everywhere, need to steer clear of wildlife

The incident has caused additional anger as being yet another case of drone flights harassing wildlife – or worse. Ythan Seal Watch says it has found over a dozen recent videos taken by craft that have frightened protected creatures. It suspects there are more examples that were never uploaded, or involved drones that weren’t filming. And it isn’t just a problem in Scotland.

In May, a drone crash in a southern California reserve caused nesting elegant terns to abandon at least 1,500 eggs – an entire generation of the species ­that never hatched. Drone flights over islands just off Oregon’s shores have been blamed for causing similar disruption of nesting birds. In Oregon, laws don’t prohibit drone operation in state parks or reserves – though that will change in 2022. The legality of such flights in California is open to some debate.

In Scotland, however, the texts are clear, and even unintentional harassment of wildlife in designated protected areas is a crime – and enforced as such. Meaning the drone pilot in Forvie had better come up with a really smart way of dealing with the tightening web of stupid his flight and video have spun around him.

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