Back Off: What you’re doing is banned by the Marine Mammal Protection Act

This morning during my 8am class, I went to the Elkhorn Slough otter cam set up by seaotters.com and Animal Planet. The students are entertained, or at least act like they are, to stop working for a bit and take a look at the wildlife. It’s a welcome distraction, and a great way to start any morning. The camera was zoomed in on a dozing otter and what seems to be a juvenile sea lion. The otter ended up swimming off, and a red kayak slowly came into the frame.

Too close!

Too close!

The sea lion that had been resting has sat up as the kayaker paddles closer to get a picture. The California sea lion is not an endangered species, and the kayaker is seemingly doing no harm. But guess what buddy? You’re too close. If an animal reacts to you, it’s wasted energy that it needs to stay healthy. You taking your innocent picture, “it’s on land, I’m in the water, how could it be bothered,” are breaking the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Enacted in 1972, it means you’re not allowed to harass marine mammals. The MMPA defines harassment as “any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance which has the potential to either: a. injure a marine mammal in the wild, or b. disturb a marine mammal by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

Exploring the kayak

Exploring the kayak

It’s recommended that you stay at least 50 yards away from marine mammals. This doesn’t look anywhere close to that. I know that at Elkhorn Slough, it can be difficult to stay away from the animals – it’s an amazingly beautiful place, and marine mammals are everywhere, and many of them will approach you if you’re out for a paddle. Check out this sea otter who came up to a kayak (which I photographed using a telephoto lens from the beach).

But if an animal is up on the beach, it’s not curious about you, and paddling up to it for a photo op is not OK. Don’t think that people can’t see you when you’re breaking the law.

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