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Hang Back and Enjoy the View
Wildlife need their space.

To keep everyone safe, healthy, and stress-free, it's important to give wildlife plenty of space. Keeping your distance from wildlife also gives YOU the best chance to observe some amazing natural behaviors that you do not get to see when an animal feels stressed or threatened!

people sit on rocks and look out over the ocean through binoculars

Using binoculars is a great way to get a closer look at wildlife while keeping your distance!

Photo: Paul Wong/NOAA

When viewing wildlife, move back to the recommended or legally required distance (learn what they are here). It is also helpful to learn some of the common signs of disturbance in wildlife before you set out. If you see any of these behaviors in an animal, it’s safe to assume that you’re too close:

  • Fleeing
  • Fidgeting
  • Freezing or staring
  • Rapid changes in speed or direction
  • Increased vocalizations
  • Aggressive behavior

Individual animals’ reactions will vary, so carefully observe all animals in the vicinity. You can learn more of the common signs of disturbance in different marine species here.

See A Spout, Watch Out!

Even when watching wildlife from a boat, maintain a proper distance. It is best to approach slowly from the rear or side and never from the front. Stop your engines to reduce disturbance; too much vessel noise can block communication between animals. If the animal is close, wait until moves to a safe distance before engaging your propellers.

Anyone who has ever run in a race or completed a vigorous workout knows the feeling of exhaustion that often comes afterwards. You feel tired because you’ve used up all or most of your energy, and you probably won’t be able to exert that much energy again for a while - at least until you’ve had a chance to rest and eat.

Animals function similarly. They acquire energy from their food, but they are constantly using this energy to hunt, avoid predators, attract mates, and raise their young. When you get too close to an animal and it becomes stressed or has to flee, it uses up some of their precious energy. Energy can be a matter of life and death for wildlife - if they have already used up their energy trying to escape humans, they may be too exhausted to escape a predator or hunt food for their young. Give wild animals the best chance at survival by appreciating them from afar.

A puffin floats on water and spreads its wings ×
How do you know if you’re too close to wildlife? If an animal begins to stare or tries to flee like this Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, it likely feels threatened. Back away and give them some space.
Photo: Sophia Webb/NOAA
A puffins styand on a steep cliff
These Tufted Puffins in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary show no visible signs of distress and are not making eye contact with the observers, which means that the observers are maintaining a safe distance from them.
Photo: Mary Sue Brancato/NOAA
Two elephant seals bellow at each other on a beach.

When you keep your distance, you maximize your chances of seeing natural behaviors, like this display of play-fighting from two young elephant seals in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Photo: Matt McIntosh/NOAA

Additional Resources

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Take the Pledge

Respect. Protect. Enjoy.