Britain is about to undertake a mass sea-grass survey and BSAC have released this guidance on what to do if you see a sea horse.

This paragraph stood out to me:

If you take a photo DO NOT put it on social media - it is an offence. Keep your finding quiet, just you and your dive team, not the public at large

Now, I find it hard to believe that it's an offence to take a picture of a sea horse that you stumbled across by accident, even if you need a license to actively search for them.

Is this really accurate?

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    Not in a position to check if this is the case, but: the use of "If you take a photo" suggests they have no fundamental problem with taking photos, but "DO NOT put it on social media" suggests they do not want (the location?) publicising, presumably to stop others coming to the same place and possibly causing damage to the environment, or disturbing the seahorses.
    – TripeHound
    Commented May 21 at 14:40
  • @TripeHound - Ahh see, I read that as "we're not going to tell you not to take a photo, but it is an offense, so don't grass on yourself" Commented May 21 at 16:28
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    No, I read that as don’t publish the photo. You’re over-interpreting this.
    – user207421
    Commented May 21 at 23:51
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    Isn't a criminal act in the UK an offence? Commented May 22 at 12:54
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey - The internet has ruined me... Commented May 23 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


The Seahorse Trust states on their conservation page

In 2008 both British species of seahorse became protected as named species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). . .

Another achievement, in 2010, was the banning of the use of flash photography when photographing seahorses. This was banned on welfare grounds. After 41 years of experience we knew for certain that flash photography is harmful and kills seahorses.

It is now illegal to kill, take or disturb seahorses in British waters.

Presumably if you are close enough to photograph a seahorse, then you will be disturbing it (even without a flash), when you should be quietly leaving its vicinity, and that your business with them is only legal if you hold a licence to study them.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act uses the phrasing

intentionally or recklessly disturbs

If you accidentally disturb one, that is not an offence, but to continue to disturb it (by taking a photograph) could be considered to be intentional.

  • 11
    No, I would say you are not fine, because your very presence is disturbing the seahorse. Their mortality rate from being stressed is very high. The page you linked contains advice of what to do when you find one accidentally. Put the protected seahorse above your desire to take a photo. If you take a photo you are studying it, which you need a licence for. The remark about posting on social media may be due to it possibily being an offence to publicise the location of the protected species (although I can't find it in the Act). Commented May 21 at 11:28
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    So the offense is being near them in the first place, not taking the photograph. The photograph is just evidence that they could use against you.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 21 at 17:42
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    @ScottishTapWater I'm sure if I put an alligator/lion/bear a few meters away from you that doesn't count as disturbing you, right? Right?!
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented May 21 at 19:30
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    So the conclusion here is then that it is neither the taking of the photo nor the uploading to social media that constitutes an offence, but the disturbance. Say I am sitting, motionless, on the sea bed taking pictures with my 800 mm lens and a large seahorse happens to swim through my field of lens-vision 30 m/100 ft away (so I’m an immobile 11-meter/36-foot giant 180 m/600 ft away). I click the shutter and stay where I am, the sea horse swims away undisturbed. Later, I scrub the GPS/EXIF data and upload the photo to social media (untagged). No offence will have been committed. Commented May 22 at 0:14
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    I think that all the comments do not take into account the challenges of underwater photography. A clear signal is that the comment by@JanusBahsJacquet took many upvotes. There is no way to get a picture of a tiny seahorse from a distance. The result would always show a fuzzy undistinguishable subject. If you have a picture of a seahorse where the subject is clearly visible you must have taken it from a distance of less than two metres.
    – FluidCode
    Commented May 23 at 9:25

From cell phones' cameras I infer the point is not only taking the picture (as in to get the visible data you see when looking on a print), but all the meta data about the parameters about the recording including date, time, and geolocation known as exif data easily transmitted and readout by numerous programs.

An accidental geotagging by taking a photo already can be problematic for humans at land; a legal constrain on who is allowed to record such photos in order to prevent unwanted "visits" by others to protect endangered species thus doesn't appear strange.

  • 1
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    – feetwet
    Commented May 22 at 13:49
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    Buttonwood, can you cite a specific law that criminalises publishing of protected animals' locations? I'm not aware of one. Commented May 22 at 15:11
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    I'm not convinced by this answer, @TobySpeight , but the existence of the "Confidential Badger Report" in planning guidance wouldn't make it so surprising (though my money is on the other answer). I don't know of its legal footing, but Confidential Badger Reports an official policy aimed at not revealing the location of protected animals, and a very frequently required and well-known official procedure in a process where most documents are open.
    – Dan
    Commented May 22 at 17:25
  • To publish a location may be "a good", to prevent this (for ever and all, or with a temporal embargo similar to a freedom of information act, or some geographic fuzziness, or only certain to professionals [e.g. rangers]) an other. Between a plaintiff and defendant, a court might settle which is of higher value per se, for instance "protection of animals" (and hence the embargo) as more important, than the interest of an individual (who perhaps doesn't own / isn't entrusted to manage the land/the sea/the territory in question).
    – Buttonwood
    Commented Jun 12 at 16:52

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