Hi 😊 I wanted to ask you something. Sea lions often approach divers and people they find swimming where they are. As people must keep a certain distance and not go and approach some animals (whales and dolphins, for example) unless the animal decides to get close, I was wondering if it's okay to be so near them in the water, in case sea lions are the ones that approach people. Thank you!
It’s a great question! Watching marine mammals in their natural habitat can be a great way to learn about the environment and promote conservation (plus, it’s fun!). But it’s always important to give animals lots of space to live their lives and carry out their daily activities. Getting too close can make it harder for animals to feed or rest, which in turn makes it harder for them to survive. With that in mind, as you point out, the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits harassing marine mammals in the wild.
In general, guidelines include:
- observing wild dolphins, porpoises, and seals from a safe distance of at least 50 yards by land or sea
- observing large whales from a safe distance of at least 100 yards by land or sea
- using binoculars or telephoto lenses to see better without getting too close
- avoiding abrupt movements or circling and entrapping marine mammals between watercraft, or between watercraft and shore.
Still, like you say, sea lions and other animals are quite curious and often do approach divers! Case in point:
Photo in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; credit David J. Ruck/NOAA
So what do you do when this happens?
Typically, if you see an animal or it approaches you, the best way to go is to remain calm, watch it, and don’t attempt to interact with it. Don’t get any closer than it wants to get, and when it decides to swim away, let it; don’t follow it!
Basically, you shouldn’t closely approach or attempt to interact with marine mammals in the wild – but if they come to you, you can watch calmly. But never attempt to pet, touch, or feed them!
Thanks for taking care of our ocean’s amazing mammals!