In 2013 the word “selfie” took the internet by storm and by the end of the year it was entered into the Oxford dictionary. Since then, the diversity of selfies changed. The trend became more than just duck facing in the mirror. People were taking selfies from the tops of buildings, underwater, and in recent years with marine life. There are precautions to keep in mind when approaching sea life. When around these animals it is wise to know how to behave so that both human and animal safety is not compromised.
One of the most common, rising trends surface on seal beaches. These are beaches open to the public where sea lions and seals often occupy whether to give birth or just to relax. Who would pass up an opportunity to be so close to a real sea lion, or to feature one in a selfie? The opportunity is tempting but there are a few things that guests must be aware of. Here are some of the recommended ways, inspired by the NOAA, to view sea lions.
First off, beach signs are there to help you. The newly added “No Selfies With Seals” signs are intended for the safety of both animal and human. Time should be taken to read them. Ashely Mackin reported several signs being placed on La Jolla beach, a popular resting spot for sea lions. She found that the signs warn visitors against approaching the animals due to the risk of endangering the creatures. If a human gets too close to a seal pup the mother may abandon her young. Seal pups are fragile in the early stages of life and cannot fend for themselves. It is wise to keep a reasonable amount of distance.
Not only is the well-being of the animals in jeopardy but humans are at risk as well. When stepping onto a beach with sea lions one must know, the beach is the animal’s territory and they will not hesitate to defend it. Caitlin Rother reported territorial sea lions in La Jolla blocking the public from entering the water. Animals are unpredictable and even the ones lounging on the beach have potential to lash out if they feel their territory is being invaded. After all, these are wild animals. It is of utmost importance that a sufficient amount of distance is in place between people and animal.
The NOAA highlights ways to tell if you are too close to a seal:
- “Increased vocalizations by seals.”
- “Movement back into the water (single animal or the herd).”
- “All eyes are on you (single animal or several in the herd).”
- “Disturbance from normal resting position (lifting their head to watch you, stretching, waving foreflippers, yawning).”
(Viewing and Interacting with Wild Marine Mammals, 40)
Second, one must refrain from feeding sea lions. Just like a “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign beaches are beginning to place caution signs to keep guests from feeding seals. Not only is this action illegal but it can result in harm. The International Fund for Animal Welfare states that seals can “become dependent on humans for food” and give up the need for hunting (IFAW).
Human food can also cause illness. Crackers and chips are not a part of a seal’s diet. We must remember that these are wild creatures and when they see something they want, they will try to take it. According to Laura Greggel “Seal Finger” is a risk if a seal bites a human. This is a rather serious infection if left untreated and a possible outcome if one attempts to feed a seal. The seals won’t check to make sure fingers are out of the way.
Lastly, when viewing these animals, the goal is to minimize their stress levels. NOAA recommends using hushed tones rather than abrasive shouts around sea lions. (40) They also suggest having a hold on pets who the seals may see as a possible threat. A curious or excited pet may spook a seal and provoke them to defend themselves or flee. (Refer to the warning signs above to indicate if a sea lion is stressed.) We want to keep these animals as happy as possible and limit their stress.
These cautions, as well as beach signs, should not detour anyone from visiting a seal beach. Taking family trips to see marine life in the wild is the best way to promote conservation and education. However, one must be prepared to visit these places. Take into consideration the warnings and laws that are put in place. They are there for the benefit of our species as well as theirs. By all means, take a seal selfie, but make sure it is far enough away (NOAA says 150 feet). Do not be tempted by a sea lion’s puppy dog eyes, they find plenty of food for themselves and do not need our human food. Above all be sure to respect these creatures and minimize their stress levels. As humans, we must protect our ocean and its inhabitants. Creatures must be treated with care and respect always.
“FAQ’s about seals.” International Fund for Animal Welfare. Web. 11 July 2017.
Geggel, Laura. “'Seal Finger' Worries Prompt Antibiotics After Sea Lion Attack.” Live Science. 25 May 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.
Mackin, Ashley. “'No Selfies with Seals': La Jolla Parks & Beaches hears of more pinnipend signs posted.” La Jolla Light. 5 April 2017. Web. 11 July 2017.
Rother, Caitlin. “La Jolla Cove is becoming a sea lion cesspool.” San Diego Reader. 15 January 2014. Web. 11 July 2017.
“Viewing and Interacting with Wild Marine Mammals.” NOAA. 27 November 2011. Web. 11 July 2017.
- By: Heather Weller, Plea for the Sea