Ocean Currents

Tips for Watching Wildlife: Keeping the “Wild” in the Experience

© Glory L. Moore

One of my happiest family memories comes from a trip when my son was six years old. We arrived at a popular bay on the big island of Hawaii known for its plentiful green sea turtles. I’ll never forget the look on his small face when he popped up out of the water, pulled his mask off, and said in astonishment, “Mom! A turtle just swam along right next to me!”

Being a conscientious little dude, he got a bit worried, because signs on the beach warned visitors to keep their distance from the sea turtles, listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

We tried our best, but several glided right up to peer at us when we hovered motionless in the water. We’ll always cherish the rare thrill of being so close to wild things in the ocean. But did we do the right thing?

When you’re viewing wildlife – and wildlife is viewing you – following specific guidelines will ensure that you have a terrific experience. It’s about using good sense to protect yourself as well as the animals and the habitat they call home.

For example:

  • Learn a little about the specific species you expect to encounter before you go, including time of day when they are most active.
  • Check out rules and laws about how close is too close, and instead of chasing wildlife, move parallel keeping a reasonable distance.
  • Never touch babies—that sea lion pup on the beach may not be an orphan, its mamma could just be out fishing. (Concerned? Let wildlife authorities know.)

For a detailed handbook on viewing wildlife (available in Spanish), visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Sanctuaries Program’s page on ocean etiquette.

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