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Monterey Bay Issue Name: Wildlife Disturbance – Marine Mammals, Seabirds and Turtles haulout

The Sanctuary has one of the most diverse and abundant assemblages of marine animals in the world, including six species of pinniped, thirty-three species of cetacean, four species of sea turtles, ninety-four species of seabirds and one species of sea otter (fissiped). More...

Issue Summary
  See the Proposed Action Plans
Draft Action Plan
  Marine Mammals, Seabirds, and Turtles Draft Action Plan (pdf 4.5M)
Working Group Roles and Responsibilities
  Roles and Responsibilities (pdf 24K)
  Consensus Based Decision Making (pdf 24K)
Meeting Preparation
  USFWS Devils Slide (pdf 412K)
  Meeting 4 Agenda (pdf 16K)
Additional Information

JMPR Documents

  Scoping Comments (pdf 28K)

Working Group Participants:
~Working Group Contact~
Name Affiliation Email Phone
Deirdre Hall MBNMS 831-647-4207
~Sanctuary Advisory Council Members (SAC) & Other Stakeholders ~
Name Affiliation
Harriet Mitteldorf MBNMS SAC, At Large    
Heidi Tiura MBNMS SAC, Recreation    
Caryn Owens Friends of the Sea Otter    
Michele Knight Adventures by the Sea    
Rick Hanks Bureau of Land Management    
Pat Smith Pilot    
Scott Benson Moss Landing Marine Labs    
Paul Kelly California Department of Fish and Game    
Karen Nordstrom Monterey County Film Commission    
Nancy Black Monterey Bay Whalewatch    
Roger Bland San Francisco State University    
Hugh Knechtel U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Common mure project    
Robert Brownell National Marine Fisheries Service    
Kaya Pederson Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory    
Jim Curland Defenders of Wildlife    
Jordan Baldueza US Coast Guard    
~MBNMS Staff ~
Name Affiliation Email Phone
Huff McGonigal MBNMS 831-647-4254
Jen Jolly MBNMS 831-647-1968
Jennifer Parkin MBNMS 831-647-4204
Lisa Emanuelson MBNMS 831-372-7918
Michele Roest MBNMS 805-927-2145

Working Group Timeline:
Start: January, 2003
Time Location Documents
January 17
1-5pm MBNMS Main Office Meeting 1 Agenda (pdf 116K)
February 19
1-4pm MBNMS Main Office Meeting 2 Agenda (pdf 16K)
March 13
1-4pm MBNMS Main Office Meeting 3 Agenda (pdf 16K)
April 22
9:30am-12:30pm MBNMS Main Office Meeting 4 Agenda (pdf 16K)
Complete: April, 2003

Issue Summary:

The Sanctuary has one of the most diverse and abundant assemblages of marine animals in the world, including six species of pinniped, thirty-three species of cetacean, four species of sea turtles, ninety-four species of seabirds and one species of sea otter (fissiped).

The Sanctuary is mandated to approach resource protection from a broad, ecosystem based perspective. This requires consideration of a complex array of habitats, species, and interconnected processes and their relationship to human activities.

The Sanctuary provides many opportunities for wildlife viewing, including whale watching, bird watching, observation of pinniped pupping and haulout activities, and tidepooling. With the multitude of opportunities for observing and interacting with nature comes the potential for wildlife disturbance which may result in impacts on marine resources such as: flushing of birds from nesting sites, pinnipeds abandoning pups, potential harassment or even death to wildlife. Certain recreational activities such as kayaking or scuba diving, and some commercial activities such as low flying aircraft and fisheries interactions have the potential to harm or disturb marine mammals and seabirds.

Public awareness is necessary to effectively address wildlife disturbance issues since most people who choose to view marine wildlife do not intend to place the animals or themselves at risk. While it has been well established that it is harmful and dangerous to closely approach, handle or feed terrestrial wildlife (e.g., bears, deer, raccoons, nesting birds, etc.), many people do not yet seem to understand that these concerns also apply to marine wildlife.

Types of Wildlife in the MBNMS The MBNMS is known both nationally and internationally as a veritable ‘hot spot’ for viewing marine life. There is significant interest and public participation in activities found in the region that offer wildlife viewing accessibility. Following is a description of species present in the MBNMS.

Of the thirty-three species of cetaceans seen in the Monterey Bay area, about onethird occur with frequency. Six of the whales are listed as endangered species: the blue, fin, humpback, gray, right, and sperm. Other cetaceans such as humpback whales, right whales, minke whales, fin whales, blue whales and killer whales also seasonally inhabit the waters within the MBNMS. The highest concentration areas of cetaceans are within the southern and central portions of the MBNMS.

There are a total of 9 rookeries/colonies in the MBNMS. The five species of pinnipeds considered common in the Monterey Bay area include California sea lions, Steller sea lions, Northern elephant seals, Northern fur seals, and Pacific harbor seals. An additional species, the Guadeloupe fur seal, has been reported from records of sick animals stranded on the beach.


Seabirds and shorebirds:
Sanctuary waters are among the most heavily used by seabirds worldwide. Ninety-four species of seabird are known to occur regularly within and in the vicinity of the Sanctuary, and approximately ninety species of tidal and wetland birds occur on the shores, marshes, and estuaries bordering Sanctuary waters. Several environmental features are responsible for the diverse assemblage of birds in the area, such as the Monterey Bay being located on the Pacific Flyway, allowing the birds a place to stopover during both north and south migrations between southern wintering grounds and northern breeding sites. The upwelling of nutrient-rich waters adjacent to the submarine canyon support
highly productive food webs which provide abundant seabird prey, as well as the diversity of habitat types along the shore which increases the variety of bird species which utilize the MBNMS.

The California or southern sea otter is a threatened species that is found throughout the shallow waters of Monterey Bay from Pismo Beach to Año Nuevo Island. Sea otters inhabit a narrow zone of coastal waters, normally staying within one mile from shore. They forage in both rocky and soft-sediment communities as well as in the kelp understory and canopy. They seldom are found in open waters deeper than 30 m, preferring instead the kelp beds, which serve as vital resting, foraging, and nursery sites. Otters are an important part of the marine ecosystem. By foraging on kelp-eating macroinvertebrates (especially sea urchins) sea otters can, in many instances, influence the abundance and species composition of kelp assemblages and animals within nearshore communities (Riedman, 1987).

The MBNMS is home to four species of sea turtles that frequent its waters —the Green, Pacific Ridley, Leatherback and Loggerhead sea turtles. The leatherback is the most common. It is the largest turtle in the world and has the widest geographic range of any reptile. It is found in all of the world’s major oceans and has been observed from the Artic Circle to the edges of the Antarctic convergence zone. Leatherbacks are also one of the deepest diving animals known—descending to depths in excess of 1,300 meters. The leatherback is the world’s most endangered sea turtle with populations in the Pacific Ocean declining at a disastrous rate. Since 1980 populations have dropped by more than 90%, and the accidental killing of leatherbacks by high seas commercial fishing fleets is a major contributor to that decline.


Endangered Species:
Of the more than 116 federally listed threatened or endangered species (55 percent of all species nationwide) in California, twenty-six reside within the Sanctuary.
For additional information on species found within the Sanctuary visit the MBNMS site characterization at:

Potential Disturbance Activities within the MBNMS:
Over the last twenty years, increasing numbers of people have been seeking opportunities to view and experience marine wildlife. For the most part, wildlife viewing has resulted in many positive benefits including new economic opportunities for local communities and increased public awareness and stewardship for marine resources. However, there is growing evidence that marine wildlife can be disturbed and/or injured when viewing activities are conducted inappropriately.

Frequent disturbance has the potential to adversely effect marine species. The effects of disturbance can be especially critical during sensitive time periods, such as feeding, breeding, resting, or nesting. Disturbance is likely to cause avoidance reactions and may result in interruptions of social behavior of animals and is capable of leading to long-term changes in distribution.

Motorized and Non-motorized Vessels:
The use of motorized or non-motorized vessels (outboard or inboard boats, kayaks, canoes, underwater scooters, or other types of water craft) to interact with marine mammals in the wild is a rapidly growing activity nationwide. For example, NMFS and the MBNMS have received complaints from members of the public that include operators of motor vessels driving through groups of dolphins in order to elicit bow-riding behavior, whale watching vessels getting too close to whales or chasing animals in order to get a better view of them, and kayakers utilizing the quiet nature of their vessels to approach too close to sea otters. All of these actions cause animals to exhibit avoidance responses resultant from the interactions.

Fireworks displays over the Sanctuary have been traditionally conducted as part of national and community celebrations and foster public use and enjoyment of the marine environment. However, fireworks displays have the potential to cause unacceptable levels of disturbance in certain areas. The MBNMS has worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in developing solutions to this issue; it is expected that final implementation of those guidelines will occur in 2003. Traditional community fireworks displays will be allowed to continue at the existing locations, but there will be constraints on the number allowed per year, as well as designated zones
where fireworks will be prohibited.

Overflight Impacts:
Potential impacts from low-flying aircraft are addressed by a specific prohibition on flying under 1000 feet in designated overflight zones with sensitive wildlife. Some implementation problems have occurred due to pilot’s lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the zones since they are not noted on aeronautical charts. MBNMS has begun an outreach campaign to pilot associations on the zones and the impacts of low flights, and is working to include notations on the FAA aeronautical charts. Additional outreach may be required to reach aviation companies which may be conducting whale watching trips within the Sanctuary Overflight Restriction Zones, as this activity is also know to cause animals to exhibit avoidance responses resultant from the interactions.


How does the MBNMS currently address Wildlife Disturbance?
MBNMS addresses wildlife disturbance through a mix of educational outreach, regulations and enforcement. Sanctuary regulations explicitly prohibit harassment of marine mammals (as defined under the Marine MammalProtection Act), sea turtles and birds. Other Sanctuary regulations relating to wildlife disturbance include restrictions on flying motorized aircraft below 1,000 feet in three designated sensitive areas, a prohibition on attracting white sharks, and restrictions on the use motorized personal watercraft. Non-regulatory measures are also used by the Sanctuary to address wildlife disturbance, and include a variety of education and outreach activities and products.

There are several docent programs in high visitor use areas in the MBNMS. Some programs have been enacted to address concerns at specific locations such as the State or County Parks Programs at Point Lobos and the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, other docent programs are more regional. Below is a description of MBNMS programs which enlist the help of specifically trained and educated

An effort to address the disturbance of marine mammals and seabirds by recreational users of the Sanctuary was launched by the Sanctuary during the fall of 2000, and is now in its 3rd year. The Team OCEAN summer outreach program employs on-the-water education efforts on the Monterey Peninsula and in Elkhorn Slough to prevent kayakers from approaching marine mammals such as sea otters too closely. Similarly, the Sanctuary has assisted in reducing harassment of the elephant seal population at Piedras Blancas, a location very near the highway where tourists were closely approaching the animals. These efforts have included assisting local nonprofit organizations in establishing an observer and docent network for the elephant seal haulout sites to facilitate observation opportunities at safe distances and locations, and improving interagency enforcement for cases where an educational approach has not sufficed.

In 1997 a volunteer beach-monitoring program (Beach COMBERS: Coastal Ocean Mammal/Bird Education and Research Surveys) was established by the MBNMS and Moss Landing Marine Labs, to obtain information on rates of stranding for all Sanctuary marine birds and mammals. In addition, mortality events are detected, causes of mortality events are assessed, and oil and tar deposition is monitored. Some success stories to date include the discovery of banded birds from as far away as Hawaii; detection of unusually high numbers of dead adult harbor seals in localized areas; and a high deposition of Common Murres (a diving seabird), which led to the discovery of a previously unrecognized threat of gillnet mortality for Common Murres, harbor porpoise, and sea otters. The Beach COMBERS program has recently been expanded to Cambria, in the southern Sanctuary region. This program can help detect wildlife mortality patterns, although there often are a variety of possible causes of death.


Friends of the Elephant Seal:
The Friends of the Elephant Seal (FES) is a non-profit organization, formed in 1997. It is dedicated to educating people about elephant seals and other marine life and to teaching stewardship for the central coast of California. The organization puts volunteers through a comprehensive training program, using local experts. Volunteers work at the elephant seal viewing site year-round, 7 days a week, from 10 - 4. Docents make over 150,000 contacts per year, with visitors coming from all over the world. The program redirects visitors to appropriate viewing sites and advises visitors of safe viewing practices. MBNMS has provided funding for signage at the main viewing site, and serves as an advisory member to the Board of Directors, participates in the docent trainings, and provides general assistance and support.

BAYNET, an all volunteer, non-profit organization founded in 1996, is dedicate to the protection of natural resources and educating people about the wonders of the ocean and the living marine resources in California's Monterey Bay region. During the program's first four years, BAYNET volunteers spoke with more than 200,000 visitors from all over the world. In the year 2000 alone, BAYNET volunteers donated 1,700 hours of service. The MBNMS provides staff assistance and partial funding for the program.

Watchable Wildlife:
The Watchable Wildlife program is a unique partnership of federal and state wildlife agencies and non-profit organizations working to educate the public and commercial operators about safe and responsible wildlife viewing practices. The program has three immediate goals: (1) enhance public wildlife viewing
opportunities; (2) provide education about wildlife and its needs; and (3) promote active support of wildlife conservation. Within NOAA, the National Ocean Service (through the National Marine Sanctuary Program) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (through the Office of Protected Resources) have been working together with the Watchable Wildlife program partners over the past five years to develop a “Watchable Wildlife” program specifically for marine species and habitats. The main purpose of the program is to provide the public with information about appropriate wildlife viewing practices for the marine environment that are consistent with wildlife protection laws and conservation efforts.

Harassment within the Sanctuary is governed by a complex array of multijurisdictional laws and regulations such as the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The following activities are prohibited within the Sanctuary: exploring for, developing or producing oil gas or mineral, discharging materials (with certain exceptions), altering the seabed, disturbing marine mammals sea turtles and birds, attracting white sharks, moving removing or injuring a Sanctuary historical resource, possessing any historical resource, marine mammal, sea turtle or seabird, and flying motorized aircraft below 1,000 feet in certain areas.


The shoreline of the MBNMS is approximately 300 miles long. The MBNMS has one dedicated NOAA Office of Law Enforcement agent to respond to potential violations of Sanctuary regulations. The Sanctuary relies heavily on collaborations with other cross-deputized partners such as the Department of Fish and Game and State Parks to assist with Sanctuary enforcement. As might be expected with one dedicated agent responsible for coverage of an area the size of Connecticut, this enforcement agent has limited capabilities. The MBNMS also funds a half-time law enforcement officer working in the Cambria area, who assists with enforcement issues during the elephant seal pupping season and collaborates with the Friends of the Elephant Seal docents. The MBNMS currently addresses some of these harassment issues through regulatory measures such as prohibitions of white shark attraction and marine mammal and seabird harassment, and over-flight restrictions for sensitive areas; as well as non-regulatory measures and other education and outreach efforts to minimize impacts to living marine resources. However, major disturbances to marine mammals and seabirds continue to be a major issue within the MBNMS and will be addressed in this Management Plan Review. A framework and strategies to address this issue will be incorporated and implemented as part of this site-specific action plan.

Strategies to be pursued in the Work Group:
Despite the initial efforts outlined above, many species in the Sanctuary warrant further protection via outreach, education, enforcement or other strategies designed to inform the public and specific user groups of the need to prevent wildlife disturbance within the MBNMS. The goal of this working group is to develop a framework of protective measures for human interactions with marine mammals, seabirds,and turtles through wildlife viewing and aircraft overflights in the Sanctuary. The initial phase will focus on identifying gaps in the existing system of protection and formulating a plan to jointly develop specific, more detailed, recommendations for those topics which have emerged as priorities.

Product expected:
This working group will consist of one main group that meets regularly however some participants or sub-groups will be given assignments for some of the specific details and issues, and will report back to the main group. This workgroup will be responsible for developing a framework in which to address these issues over the next few years. Categories of strategies will likely include targeted and focused education and outreach, improved enforcement, disturbance guidelines, and survey and monitoring activities.

The following issues are known to be of concern within the MBNMS:
• Whale watching harassment
• Marine debris
• Kayak disturbances (harbor seals, sea otters, seabirds, and sea lions)
• Elephant seal harassment
• Low overflights (seabirds, pinnipeds, and whales)
• Snowy plover impacts from beach activities

Potential or emerging issues:
• Live fish fishery (seabirds and pinnipeds)
• By-catch from fishing gear and aquaculture (turtles and seabirds)
• Acoustic impacts on marine mammals
• Boat-based wildlife harassment (tour and recreation)
• Land-based wildlife harassment (pinniped and seabird)

Issues already resolved (to include in action plan):
• Fireworks


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