Whale voyeurs told not to get too close

As crowds flock to see the humpbacks feed, officials warn visitors to stay 100 yards away

dsneed@thetribunenews.comAugust 23, 2012 

— Federal wildlife officials are warning people to keep their distance from humpback whales feeding at Avila Beach.

Photos and video shot in recent days showing humpback whales surfacing as they feed in Port San Luis have gone viral. Some images show boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders watching the spectacle at close range.

Marine mammal experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warn that getting too close to the whales is dangerous to both people and the whales and may be a violation of federal law.

“As a rule of thumb, boaters, including kayakers and paddle boarders, should stay at least 100 yards to the side of transiting whales and should not cross their path and not pursue or surround them,” the agency said in a statement issued Thursday.

Whales and other marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under that law, any actions by people that cause the mammals to change their behavior may constitute harassment and may be grounds for fines and penalties.

The whales lunge out of the water as they feed on bait fish. One of the huge animals could easily injure a boater in the process.

“In addition, whales may also suffer because disturbance and stress caused by boaters can affect their energy reserves and overall health,” the statement said.

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