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Wildlife Viewing Tips

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2015 California Marine Mammal Users' Guide
(2.8M PDF)

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The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is one of the best places in the world to see marine wildlife. You can see seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, dolphins and seabirds any time of year! All of these animals are protected and it's against federal law to disturb them or cause them to change their behavior. Here are some tips to help you enjoy watching wildlife in a responsible way:

  • Learn before you go. Find out where and when to see wildlife by using the Internet, guidebooks or contacting local environmental groups.
  • Keep your distance! You're too close if an animal starts to stare, fidget or flee. Slowly back away and stay at least 150 feet (46 meters) away. Seals on land are especially wary and may rush into the water or abandon their pups, threatening their survival.
  • Watch quietly. Rest is important, especially for moms and babies, and you'll see more of their natural behaviors.
  • Stay away from animals that appear sick, injured or abandoned. Some animals beach themselves on purpose to rest. Mothers often leave young behind while feeding offshore. Even a lone sea otter or seal pup is probably not abandoned!
  • Don't feed wildlife. Human food can attract them and make them sick, a potentially dangerous situation for all.
  • Keep pets on a leash. Pets can disturb or harm wildlife, or cause mothers and babies to get separated. Wild animals can injure or spread disease to pets.
  • Leave tide pool and beach animals where you find them. They die quickly if removed from their home. If you're quiet and look closely, you'll see much more.
  • Avoid sensitive habitats. Observe signs directing you away from important nesting or resting areas.
  • Dispose of trash properly and pick up litter. Animals can get entangled in debris or mistake it for food.
  • Help others become responsible wildlife watchers. Speak up if you notice other viewers behaving in a way that disturbs wildlife.

For more information and resources on responsible wildlife viewing in marine sanctuaries, see our webpage about ‘Ocean Ettiquette’.

In 2023, large rafts of sea otters (100 plus) were observed congregating on the Monterey peninsula. Please see this page (1M PDF) for information on viewing etiquette and protection.

Please visit the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) page on ‘Marine Life Viewing Guidelines’ to view a more in-depth resource for learning how to interact with and observe ocean animals you encounter in the water, land, or air.

If you see sick or injured marine wildlife, contact:

  • Marine Mammals: The Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-SEAL (7325)
  • Seabirds: San Mateo County, Peninsula Humane Society at (650) 340-8200.
  • Santa Cruz County, Native Animal Rescue at (831) 462-0726
  • Monterey County, SPCA at (831) 373-2631.
  • San Luis Obispo County, Pacific Wildlife Care at (805) 543-WILD (9453)


herron on kelp bed

While you are at home:

You can care for the ocean as part of your daily life. Remember, what goes into your yard or into gutters eventually goes out to sea.

  • Use environmentally safe cleansers and garden products.
  • Recycle your paints and motor oil.
  • Buy only the products that you really need and produce as little trash as possible, recycling what you don't need.


Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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