A MAN who ordered the shooting of a seal he claimed was threatening salmon in a Scottish river has been inundated with hate mail and spat at in the street.
Sammy the seal made the headlines in February when Annan Fisheries Board tried to have him removed from the river to protect prized spring salmon.
But the attempts failed and last week the river's environment manager Nick Chisholm called in a marksman to kill the seal and end the "unnatural pressure" on the river's biodiversity.
His decision has caused fury among local residents and animal lovers who described the shooting as "disgraceful".
Mr Chisholm said he had received more than 600 hate e-mails over the past few days and that his office had been inundated with people phoning to complain and abuse him, while one man had spat at him in the street.
One angry message said: "The decision to kill Sammy the seal was absolutely disgusting.
"If you had persevered you would have been able to get him in a humane manner. The person who shot him deserves to be shot himself, then he'll know what it was like.
"I hope you're ashamed of your behaviour and have trouble sleeping at night."
Jamie Dyer, from the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, who took part in attempts to catch the grey seal, said its death was disgraceful: "It's gutting news," he said.
"The public have every reason to be angry about this and there was no reason for the seal to be shot. The seal was in the Solway for most of the time.
"Based on his size he was probably eating no more than three fish a day. He was part of the river's biodiversity."
But Mr Chisholm claims he had no choice. "We ran out of options," he said. "We'd tried, as everyone is aware, numerous attempts to remove the seal alive and scare him away. In the end we were left with no option.
"Though the decision to shoot the seal was taken three weeks ago, it took until last Thursday for it to be culled.
"We contracted a marksman in to do it. He was humanely put down. It was a single head shot - instantaneous.
"The seal's body sank into very deep water, and probably won't be seen again. Unfortunately, we couldn't recover its carcase."
The seal first appeared in the waters just before Christmas and had become a popular attraction with locals and visitors alike.
Many had pledged to protect Sammy from any attempt to have him culled, and the news of the shooting has resulted in a strong public reaction
Local resident Dave Thompson, 35, said people in the town were saddened by Sammy's passing. "The locals grew to love Sammy, he was such a character and showed no fear with humans," he said.
"I think it's outrageous that the fisheries people have shot him. What a cruel way to treat such a beautiful creature." But despite the criticism, Mr Chisholm insisted he had to think of the river's future as a whole and not just one seal.
"I still hold to the line at the end of the day, the conservation argument was heavily in favour of removing the seal. It would have been far more preferable to remove it alive but we couldn't just keep trying and failing. We had to make a decision at the end of the day.
"We made very serious efforts to catch it alive and it became a hopeless situation."
Mr Chisholm said the salmon stocks the seal favoured were so vulnerable that anglers had been banned from fishing for salmon and that large amounts of money had been invested on restoring the fishery.