Oregon Coast Officials Clarify Rules, Laws on Seals and Sea Lions
(Oregon Coast) – Oregon Coast Beach Connection recently caught some interesting interaction between humans and a group of seals in Waldport, and something about it didn't seem quite right. Using a powerful zoom lens, staff happened to catch a group of people getting a bit too close to a group of harbor seals hanging out on the end of the spit.
The humans are clearly less than ten feet from the critters. So, is this even legal? This question was posed to Brandon Ford at the Newport office of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and his answers may surprise some.
“Although the people in the photos likely meant no harm, their behavior is technically 'harassment,' which is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA),” Ford said. “Harassment occurs when human behavior changes a marine mammal’s behavior.”
Ford said the National Marine Fisheries Service has guidelines for what not to do when it comes to approaching seals and sea lions. The guidelines say that pinnipeds on land are especially sensitive to human and vessel disturbance, and even some intentional activity nearby can cause them to feel threatened and run, which can in turn be a violation. So great caution is urged if you see them on land.
Above: a baby seal hanging out in Cannon Beach (photo courtesy Haystack Awareness Program).
The guidelines say you should not intentionally approach seals or sea lions on land any closer than 100 yards.
Some reactions by pinnipeds may indicate disturbance and thus could open you up to a violation. Those include a number of the animals raising their heads, some of them scurrying into the water, a number of them move closer to the water, and increased vocalizations by sea lions.
In places like Yaquina Bay at Newport this is unavoidable as they are hovering around the docks just below where people walk, but they are definitely out of reach from humans as well.
Ford noted the photo indicates the seals are clearly very tolerant of people getting close, which is good news in that they're not very wary of them so they likely haven't been approached much or disturbed by such closeness.
“While technically a violation of the MMPA, it hardly qualifies as harassment, is not harming the seals, and it is extremely unlikely that NMFS law enforcement would consider it worth pursuing as a violation,” Ford said. “If someone started regularly charging the beach from land or water and driving animals away, that would constitute a violation with intent. Years ago, NMFS cited a boater in Netarts Bay for this type of repeated action.”
Ford cautions that off-leash dogs continue to be a problem along Oregon coast beaches. Having an off-leash dog near a seal or sea lion can be a violation as well. Also, those creatures often carry a disease called leptospirosis, which can be fatal to dogs and pose a serious health hazard to humans as well.
“So, if there’s a chance that there are seals on the beach, be sure and keep your dog on a leash,” Ford said.
The Seaside Aquarium said if you observe incidents of people or pets tormenting, disturbing, or attempting to remove a seal from the beach contact 800-452-7888 (Oregon State Police Tipline), 541-270-6830 (Oregon State University Stranding Cell Phone), or 503-738-6211 (Seaside Aquarium).
Adorable baby seal photo below courtesy Seaside Aquarium.
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Keywords: seals, sea lions, cape kiwanda, wildlife, Pacific City, Cannon Beach, Yachats, Depoe Bay, Newport, Lincoln City, Oceanside, Astoria, Oregon coast, science.
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