Whale Watching...from a Safe Distance
Fall 2011 has already been a year for the record books when it comes to whale watching. So many visitors choose Santa Cruz County as a wintertime destination, and butterflies, whales, birds and elephant seals are no different. This season, the nutrient-rich waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are attracting droves of blue whales and humpback whales, which migrate to the Sanctuary to feed on their primary prey of anchovies and krill.
This recent influx of whales to the Sanctuary, paired with visitor and local excitement has caused many onlookers to get a bit too close for comfort.
Sometimes, spontaneous act of nature bring these "gentle giants" close to humans aboard boats on whale watching tours, small sailboats or even kayaks and surfboards. When these experiences happen, it often creates an excitement and becomes a memory that will last a life time. However, a chance encounter is just that and now more than ever it is important to be cautious when viewing wildlife.
The Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council wants to remind visitors and locals to be aware of the laws and rules of the Sanctuary and to abide by them while watching whales, and other wildlife.
“Visitors are drawn to the activity of wildlife watching because the actions of Mother Nature – as we have seen in the media with other events – are fundamentally unpredictable.” said Christina Glynn, Communications Director for the CVC. “We encourage visitors and locals alike to enjoy the Monterey Bay responsibly, abiding by the laws and rules of the Sanctuary. This includes maintaining a safe distance of at least 100 yards from all marine animals, whether in the water or on shore.”
Humpback whales are protected from disturbance or injury by three federal laws - the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. Any action by an individual, regardless of their distance from a Humpback whale, that causes the whale to change its behavior constitutes "harassment" under federal law, subjecting the individual to potential federal fines and penalties. Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines are available from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
There is an array of ways to view marine life in Santa Cruz County. Visitors can utilize local whale watching tour companies or view marine wildlife from shore, from such vantage points as the Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz Harbor, Capitola Wharf and the cliffs at Davenport, among other locations.
Finding resources for marine wildlife viewing is just a click away on the CVC's whale watching webpage. Don't know all the guidelines for Marine Mammal Watching? Read and print out this handy safety flyer!
Viewing wildlife, including whales and other marine mammals is thrilling. But remember: if wildlife is looking back at you, you may be too close!
For additional information on wildlife viewing in Santa Cruz County, including birds, Monarch butterflies and other species, click here.
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