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On The Green Road: Wanted: Seal Instructor for Environmental Education

2008 August 29

About the Author: Dr. Dale Haroski is the science advisor to the Office of Public Affairs where she translates science for the public, and more recently, has begun exploring marine mammal outreach opportunities. As a new hobby, she enjoys pointing and yelling “SEAL!” when her fiancé ventures near any type of water.

Kayakers on waterWe had our wetsuits. We had our paddles. We were ready. “One last thing,” said our perky kayaking instructor. “The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that you stay 100 feet away from any marine mammals so don’t approach any closer than that. They can be inquisitive, however, so if they approach you just remain quiet, avoid eye contact, and they will eventually leave.” Ok. No problem. Avoid marine mammals. Let’s paddle.

On a recent family vacation to California my fiancé (also an EPA employee) and I decided to take his eight-year-old daughter kayaking in Monterey Bay. His daughter and I quickly set out in our two person kayak and charted a course for the kelp forest.

Soon, we spotted a harbor seal attempting to climb onto a small piece of driftwood. “Aw look! A little seal!” we sighed as it disappeared from sight. Then, out of nowhere, the little seal head popped up directly next to me and peered at me with those big soulful eyes. “OOOHHHH LOOOOK!!!!!” I squealed in a high pitch normally reserved for puppy and kitten sightings. “It’s right here! It’s soooo cute!” I shouted to no one in particular. He circled around us a few times and disappeared once again.

My fiancé started to put away his camera when the little guy popped up behind his kayak. “He’s behind you!” we yelled! Then, right before our stunned eyes, the little seal jettisoned himself out of the water and attempted to haul out onto the back of my fiancé’s kayak! We howled with laughter at my fiancé’s panic as his kayak rolled from side to side. The seal soon gave up and we breathed a sigh of relief while wiping away the tears of laughter.

Just when we thought it was safe two little eyes popped up again behind his kayak. “PADDLE HONEY PAAAADDDDDLLLLLE!” I shouted, thinking that a moving target would be harder to hit. Scenes of Jaws flitted through my head. Finally the little seal gave up and all I could think was “Great. I can see the headlines now: EPA employees found in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” It wasn’t our fault officer, really!

Kayaking was enjoyable after that but it made me realize that environmental regulations really only work if people know about them and follow them. Now if only someone could educate the marine mammals we’d be all set.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Joan permalink
    August 29, 2008

    Thanks for reminding us about not disturbing wildlife as we enjoy the great outdoors.
    “Paddle Honey, Paaaaadle!”…LOL, you made my morning!

  2. Dana Brown permalink
    August 29, 2008

    “I could think was “Great. I can see the headlines now: EPA employees found in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” It wasn’t our fault officer, really!”

    It makes NO difference whether you worked for EPA or if it was an “accident”. The Marine Mammal act is for “Stand off” of not only the animal but also the habitat. That is clearly defined, and this post shows the arrogance and lack of concern of regulations. Regulations are not only for “other than EPA” and that “environmentalists” are somehow “exempt”, while “corporations and employees of oil companies, et al, are somehow “violators even when it “wasn’t their fault”.

    This is absolutly unbelievable. I worked out at the Midway NAS on the Lead Based Paint Abatment in 1996 during the handover to the USFWS. We had a guy that fell asleep on the beach and a monk seal came up and decided to sleep 20 feet from the guy. He got fined and thrown off the island.

    Yet a recreational kayaker that “works for EPA’ and is self deluded to think they are more empathic and “care more” for the environment, made a left turn into a kelp forest and are suprised that a seal is wanting to grab a lift?

    This was a violation of the Marine Mammals act, and should be prosecuted, and is exactly why most in the environmentalists world are not taken seriously. The whole attitude seems to be “Because we care about the plante and you don’t”the rules don’t apply to me.”

    Am I the only one driven craxy with this attitude and flippant disregard of the regulations, that other who simply “made a mistake” and the fault was “the anuimal’s” are paying huge fines?

    Where is the marine Mammal enforcement officer for EPA? And theis poster has the audacity to post their violation as a joke?

    We either have laws and “need them”, or we have needless laws, which is it?

  3. Dale permalink
    August 29, 2008

    As a marine ecologist I have the greatest respect for the environment and the organisms that occupy it. While I could go into the details about my exact location (NOT in the kelp forest) and proximity to the animals (greater than 100 ft) that was not the intent of this blog. As you can imagine, or not, having a seal try to climb onto your kayak is somewhat surprising. We didn’t ask him to come over and hitch a ride nor did we kayak over to see him. I can assure you that our kayaking activity was well within the bounds demanded by the MMPA. While environmental regulations are certainly serious, humor is often an effective way of bringing these regs to the attention of the public. Thanks for reading!

  4. Mary Jo permalink
    August 30, 2008

    I suggest a psychiatric evaluation and corresponding treatment if this is something that has driven you crazy. I also propose the use of spellcheck before submission of comments.

  5. Dana Brown permalink
    August 30, 2008

    Obviously Dale youd donot understand the MMPA, and the intent, you are not to be anywhere near to even have a Marine Mammal interact with you let alone climb aboard the kayak.

    I didn’t think you asked the mammal to “come aboard” either, but that is why you were not to be anywhere near the interaction point.

    THe guy that got fined it Midway Island and lost his job, I am pretty sure did not have a lot of humor after, nor the “whale watchers” and “Dolphin watchers” that were cited this last year.

    Your dit the drift yet? You violated the law, whether intentional or unintentional, YOU were supposed to know that, and a “reasonable” professional or Scinetist would know that.

    Hurbris anyone?

  6. Sally G permalink
    September 2, 2008

    I don’t know much about regulations, never kayaked, but do know not to disturb wildlife or habitat. Trusting that you were within allowed kayaking area, I found the story a lot of fun—a truly serendipitous event.
    Dana, was the Midway Island employee sleeping in a restricted area (no defense environmentally), or was he fired for sleeping on the job (also a no-no, but for a different reason)? If he was sleeping on his own time in a nonhabitat area, then he couldn’t control the behavior of the seal, and may have been treated harshly. This is not, however, to make light of MMPA regulations, which are to be treated seriously at all times.

  7. September 2, 2008

    The MMPA can be found here: Harassment (which is included in the definition of a “take” pursuant to MMPA) is statutorily defined as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or, the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering but which does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild. Incidental (as opposed to intentional) harrasment is an excepted activity. This is what happened in this case, and it appears that the wildlife viewing guidelines were clearly followed. (

    As I see it the importance of this blog entry was to raise awareness about the MMPA and the importance of knowing that seals can sneak up on you when you are in the water.

  8. Diane permalink
    September 28, 2010

    You are very lucky to have seen a seal! Thanks for this great blog entry. I have seen quite a number of marine animals, but not yet a seal. By the way, my name is Diane, and I am a co-author of an eBook on panic disorder attacks. I do believe going to the sea and taking some time off relaxes a person! Great blog!

  9. Bob permalink
    February 15, 2011

    I agree you are lucky. The seal could have rolled the kayak, hope you guys were expert kayakers. If you don’t know how to roll and wet exit getting back in the kayak in deep water is not easy, plus the water I don;t think is real warm where you were at.

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