Humpback whales are protected by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act - NOAA PhotoWe enjoy watching whales, sea otters, and shorebirds on the waterfront. Protecting these animals will preserve the opportunity to watch them again in the future. Marine wildlife viewing constitutes one of the unique benefits and joys of life here on the waterfront. Whether we live in wild Alaska, boat along the Gulf or Western coasts, or explore the shores along the Atlantic seaboard, viewing marine wildlife is always a special experience.

Marine animals like whales, sea lions and seals, seabirds and shorebirds interest and fascinate their viewers with their antics and actions. Many areas enjoy the economic boost provided by local wildlife viewing businesses. Whale watching is a major business at many ports. Exercising common sense and using some practical viewing guidelines will protect these animals and the opportunity we have to watch them in their wild environment.

Wildlife viewing guidelines can successfully minimize the disturbance of wildlife. Many of these suggested rules have basis in Federal or State law.

  • Safe Distance – Keep your distance from wildlife. Invest in good quality binoculars or a spotting view to help maintain a safe distance. You don’t to cause animals to move off of nesting sites, rest areas or preferred feeding grounds because of your actions. Yield to the movement of animal in the water. Do not approach closer than 100 meters to animals like whales in the water.
  • Avoid Close Interaction – Never feed or touch marine wildlife. Feeding marine mammals can negatively habituate the animals to human activity. Sea Lions can take up residence at your slip and there is nothing you can do remove them if they decide to stay there. A seal or sea lion can easily cause you serious injury, even through an incidental contact. Report the location of animals that appear to be sick to authorities. Touching a sick animal can further stress them and expose you to potential disease causing agents. Never chase or harass wildlife.
  • Marine Stewardship – Be a good citizen of the marine and waterfront environment. Clean up marine debris and leave camping areas cleaner than when you found them. Abandoned fishing line and net entangles animals every year. These materials are easily recycled in useful products. Practice responsible vessel fueling and clean boating practices. Learn about using best management practices developed for boat maintenance activities. Keep family pets and especially dogs away from wildlife. Feral cats and rats cause substantial damage to seabird and shorebird nests and fledglings. Encourage others to view wildlife responsibly. Set a good example in your own actions.

Responsible wildlife viewing is just a matter of exercising some common sense. If your activity causes a change in an animal’s natural behavior, you are too close or being too loud, and need to adjust your behavior. Protecting our viewable wildlife protects the future enjoyment of these natural resources. Terry Johnson, a friend of mine with the Alaska Marine Advisory Program, has produced an excellent entitled Responsible Marine Wildlife Viewing in Alaska that can download and view for more information. Many resource agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are more than happy to talk about preserving watchable wildlife in their regions.

This article was first seen at Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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