New data from The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) shows 30 confirmed cases of the harassment of seals, sea lions, and otters by humans in San Luis Obispo County in 2022.
“We rescued 160 marine mammals that were being harassed on the beach before they were actually rescued and that accounts for about a quarter of all of the marine mammals that we rescued along our 600 miles of California's coast," said Aliah Meza, The Marine Mammal Center's Operations Manager.
TMMC says one thing they discovered was how underreported these harassment cases were.
San Luis Obispo County ranked third in negative human interaction cases that included Morro Bay, Avila Beach, Oceano Dunes, and Cayucos.
“What we found was the most common type of harassment was crowding the animal while it was resting on the beach, but we also saw a lot of very severe types of harassment, which included touching the animal, dragging the animal, trying to feed the animal. All of these behaviors are really a safety risk for the animal, but also for the people," Meza said.
The Marine Mammal Center is now working hand in hand with local businesses to target beachgoers and tourists with a message of protecting our marine wildlife.
For Morro Bay Paddlesports, it’s their daily mission to inform all of their customers before heading onto the water.
“We recommend a hundred feet, that way when people see them, they can get to see them and enjoy the experience, but also the animals are not being disrupted because this is their home too and we want to respect that," said owner Faith Holton.
The center urges the community to keep these three things in mind when at the beach: keep your distance, use your zoom when taking pictures, and if you see any marine mammal in distress call their hotline number at 415-289-SEAL.
On average, the organization rescues 600 to 800 animals annually.