Marine life experts remind folks to keep distance from wildlife

Officials urging public to leave wildlife alone as photos surface

MONTEREY, Calif. - Marine life experts warn folks to keep a distance from wildlife. There have been several close calls with sea otters this week and in some cases people were caught breaking the rules.

We’re aware of at least three close encounters along Cannery Row over the past month. Two of those have been accidental meetings but one could land someone in big trouble.

Pictures taken by the Monterey Bay Aquarium on April 22 show a man on the water luring a sea otter with bait. At one point the animal climbs aboard his kayak and he’s seen taking pictures of it.
Federal regulations state that people should stay about 100 feet away from marine animals but regardless of the distance it should not change their natural behavior.

NOAA education and outreach coordinator, Amity Wood said, “This could be anything from them being alert and looking at you and kind of being aware of your presence that is considered harassment.”

While the recent photo with the sea otter looked intentional other close encounters have been instigated by the otters.

A picture shared by the "Sea Otters of Monterey Bay" Facebook page shows a sea otter hitching a ride on the back of a woman's kayak.

A picture shared with the Monterey Herald shows an otter on the back of a two-person tandem kayak.

Marine experts at the aquarium believe it could be the same animal, but can't say with 100-percent certainty.

"You still have to remember they are wild animals and keep them as wild as possible and not allow them to become habituated to humans because it means they become less fearful of humans and they become more aggressive towards humans,” said Wood.

One kayaker from Canada told us animals don't forget a food source.

"I think it's a shame because somebody lured them, they associate people with food. Next person comes along not anticipating and the animal comes up thinking oh hey there's food for me."

A diver told us he does what he can to avoid them.

"Try to respect their space as well and it seems to work out well for all of us."

Fines and punishments for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act differ on a case by case basis. They say the first thing people should do if they see something is report it.

You can report incidents to NOAA enforcement by calling 1-800-853-1964 or CalTip hotline at 1-888-334-CalTIP.

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