I am a docent/guide for the Bay Net Cambria Elephant Seal program and actually let out a gasp of shock when I turned to "Big Seal Deal" (Weekend Escape, Feb. 15) and saw the photo accompanying Jeff Gottlieb's article that appeared to show visitors standing on the beach just a few feet away from the seals.
One of the program's goals is to inform the public of appropriate behavior when visiting the elephant seal colony, which means visitors should not go down onto the beaches and intrude on their living space, both for the safety of humans and for the welfare of the seals.
Visitors are encouraged by docents to stay at least 50 feet away from the seals, not 20 feet as the article states. Staying on the bluffs offers safe and satisfying viewing.
This photo will, unfortunately, encourage visitors to do the wrong thing.
Editor's note: A telephoto lens made it appear that the people in the photo were closer to the elephant seals than they actually were.
"Big Seal Deal" was very interesting and of particular interest to me because of where Gottlieb saw the seals and his closing statement by a "seal expert" that one should stay "at least 20 feet" from a seal.
When researching the law for an article I wrote last year, two rangers told me that people are to stay at least 50 feet away from seals and preferably 100 feet. I was also sent brochures stating "The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits, among other things, the taking or harassment of a marine mammal. . . . Anyone violating the MMPA is subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each infraction."
To report a violation, call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Enforcement hotline, (800) 853-1964.