More people are visiting the California coast to view marine wildlife and are unknowingly disrupting the animals they have come to see. Frequent disturbance adversely affects marine wildlife, especially during sensitive periods such as feeding, breeding, resting, molting, nesting, and rearing young. Disturbance to wildlife can cause avoidance reactions, separation of mothers and offspring, increased energetic costs, and unnecessary stress to individuals. Repeated disturbance has been shown to cause habituation and short- or long-term site abandonment by individuals or groups of animals. Respect Wildlife educates visitors to coasts so they are able to recognize disturbance, better understand its effects, and adopt behaviors that prevent its occurrence. The references in the Bibliography section below will get you started.
Effects on Marine Mammals - we're growing our list but start here:
Effects on Seabirds - peer-reviewed disturbance articles here:
Effects on Invertebrates/Tidepool Communities - stay tuned for updated references!
1) Give a "Thumbs Up" or "Like" in the comment section of social media images of people behaving appropriately and respectfully. State the reason why using our website via email firstname.lastname@example.org. Email us examples of people respecting wildlife at email@example.com.
2) Give a "Thumbs Down" or "Dislike" in the comment section of social media images of people behaving badly. State the reason why using our website via email firstname.lastname@example.org. Email us examples of people disrespecting wildlife at email@example.com.
3) Call for help when you see an injured animal or disturbance.
National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency/ National Marine Fisheries Service numbers:
To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal, please call: (866) 767-6114
For law enforcement, harassment, and other violations, please call: (800) 853-1964
For entangled marine mammals, please call: (877) SOS-WHALe or (877) 767-9425 or hail the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Ch. 16
To report derelict gear, please call: 1-855-542-3935
4) Use the following APPs to send information on whales.
Stay tuned as we build our site!
Learn before you go
Read about the wildlife, viewing sites and local regulations to get the most from your wildlife viewing experience. Many species live only in specific habitats such as estuaries, coral reefs, sand dunes or the open ocean. Seasonal and daily cycles also influence when and where an animal may be located. Research on the internet, buy regional viewing guidebooks, talk with local residents and hire local guides to increase your chances of seeing marine wildlife.
Keep your distance
Use binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras with zoom lenses to get a closer look. Marine wildlife may be very sensitive to human disturbance, and if cornered, they can harm the viewer or leave the area. If wildlife approaches you, stay calm and slowly back away or place boat engines in neutral. When closer encounters occur, do not make sudden moves or obstruct the travel path of the animals – let them have the unhindered right of way.
Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species. The slimy coating on fish and many marine invertebrates protects the animal from infection and is easily rubbed off with a hand, glove or foot. Avoid using gloves when diving or snorkeling to minimize the temptation to touch. Remember, wild animals may bite, body slam or even pull you underwater if startled or threatened.
Do not feed or attract marine wildlife
Feeding or attempting to attract wildlife with food, decoys, sound or light disrupts normal feeding cycles, may cause sickness or death from unnatural or contaminated food items, and habituates animals to people. Habituated animals are vulnerable to vessel strikes or vandalism, and can be dangerous to people.
Never chase or harass wildlife
Following a wild animal that is trying to escape is dangerous. Never completely surround the animal, trap an animal between a vessel and shore, block its escape route, or come between mother and young. When viewing from a boat, operate at slow speed, move parallel to the swimming animals, and avoid approaching head-on or from behind, and separating individuals from a group. If you are operating a non-motorized vessel, emit periodic noise to make wildlife aware of your presence and avoid surprise.
Stay away from wildlife that appears abandoned or sick
Some marine animals, such as seals, leave the water or are exposed at low tide as part of their natural life cycle — there may be nothing wrong with them. Young animals that appear to be orphaned may actually be under the watchful eye of a nearby parent. An animal that is sick or injured is already vulnerable and may be more likely to bite. If you think an animal is in trouble, contact the local authorities for advice.
Wildlife and pets don't mix
Wild animals can injure and spread diseases to pets, and in turn, pets can harm and disturb wildlife. For example, wild animals recognize dogs as predators and quickly flee when they see or smell dogs. If you are traveling with a pet, always keep them on a leash and away from areas frequented by marine wildlife.
Lend a hand with trash removal
Human garbage is one of the greatest threats to marine wildlife. Carry a trash bag with you and pick up litter found along the shore and in the water. Plastic bags, floating debris and monofilament line pose the greatest risk to wildlife.
Help others to become responsible wildlife watchers and tour operators
Speak up if you notice other viewers or tour operators behaving in a way that disturbs the wildlife or other viewers, or impacts sensitive habitats. Be friendly, respectful and discrete when approaching others. When operating a boat, lead by example and reduce your speed in areas frequented by marine wildlife, anchor properly and encourage others to do the same. Violations of the law should be reported to local authorities.