Dan Thurling believes that it’s a privilege to see the seals on the North Sea coast but has fears about the impact of visitors to the nature reserve.
The reserve is close to an RAF bombing range and home to one of the UK’s largest breeding colonies of grey seals - but attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Visitor numbers have increased so rapidly that Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, who operate the reserve, have been forced to introduce a one way system for traffic, paid car parks, and portable toilet facilities.
The seal pup was spotted chewing on what appeared to be a glass bottle from Starbucks.
Dan, from Horncastle, said: “I witnessed a seal pup ‘playing’ with and biting a discarded glass bottle.
“I fear had the pup had more strength then it wouldn’t have ended well.
“I imagine the glass bottle is still there but hopefully, it hasn’t harmed these amazing animals.
“I just don’t understand why people have to litter, do we not value this planet and all that we share with it?”
The 40-year-old photographer, who works as a chef, added: “I just stood there and it caught my eye that this seal was playing with something.
“It was about 100 metres away but I had a pretty hefty camera to see it.”
After training his lens on the object, Dan realised the pup was messing around with a Starbucks bottle.
“I think it’s glass bottle not a plastic bottle as some people were saying,” he said. “I thought ‘that’s not great’.
“Normally around there it’s very well managed which is why I found it quite surprising there was a piece of rubbish.
“It probably washed up in the night tide.”
He said despite one or two people doubting the photograph’s veracity, most people had been left as shocked as he was by the discovery, and he hoped the bottle had been removed.
“People were mostly shocked,” he said. “I had one or two people saying it was photo-shopped and that I was working for Starbucks!”
In response to the incident, Starbucks has said it is “deeply saddened” by the photo of the seal pup playing with the discarded bottle.
A Starbucks spokesman said: “We are deeply saddened by this image.
“At Starbucks, reducing waste by increasing recycling and encouraging reuse is something we are passionate about.
“We are speaking to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and are hopeful we can support Donna Nook in tackling some of the waste management issues at the reserve.”
A spokeswoman for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust added: “Unfortunately, human activity does have an impact on the grey seals here at Donna Nook National Nature Reserve.
“We regularly clear litter like this that comes in on the tide, and have had cases of discarded fishing ropes and frisbees getting caught around seals necks.
“We’re grateful to visitors to the nature reserve who take their litter home and report any sightings of wildlife in distress to our volunteer wardens.”
The total number of seal births at Donna Nook this season has already nearly reached the two thousand mark.
It has been exceptionally busy with the arrival of the grey seals and the latest count shows 569 bulls, 1438 cows, and 1999 pups.
Spotting the seals has been popular with locals and tourists travelling in from outside the area, enjoying the chance to photograph the cute new arrivals.
The season peaks in November and December and it can get very busy at the reserve, especially during weekends. The main car park is privately operated and charges £4 per car on weekdays and £5 per car on weekends.
They offer catering facilities and portaloos (open depending on visitor numbers) but there is no disabled access.
Visitors are reminded by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust to observe a number of guidelines to reduce disturbance to the seals for visits.
The guidelines include:
• Stay within the viewing area behind the fence
• Strictly observe all red flag and other bombing range warnings
• Never feed or pet the seals
• No unaccompanied children
• No dogs
• No flash photography
• Be considerate when visiting, park only in designated areas
The Donna Nook car park was closed for part of last week and over the weekend due to flooding, but it has re-opened today (December 2).