A paddler’s etiquette to help protect seals, birds, whales, and other creatures, which can remembered using the acronym, “PADDLE.”
Maintain a distance so that animals do not feel threatened. Stay at least 300 feet away (approximately the length of a football field) from seals, birds and other wildlife. It is preferable to paddle at high tide in places like Bolinas Lagoon because birds feed and seals haul out to rest on the mudflats.
Maintain a parallel course to the animal distribution. This is believed to be less threatening than a direct approach towards the animal. Pass at a constant speed. Do not slow down, speed up, or swing closer to seals or birds.
Restrain your impulse to get closer: if you get too close, wildlife will leave. As you pass, do not engage in any “stalking” activity, or attempt to approach animals undetected. If you wish to observe wildlife behavior, use binoculars or a camera with a 500mm or longer lens.
If seals begin lifting their heads, or birds begin moving away or flapping their wings, retreat from the area. If seals stretch out their necks or chests higher in the air, back off immediately. If seals start to move towards the water or enter the water, immediately leave the area to avoid prolonged stress on the animals. Backpaddle away from wildlife instead of turning your boat around.
Do not handle or attempt to “rescue” seal pups that you believe are abandoned or injured. Mother and pup will usually reunite on their own. If you are concerned about a marine mammal, call the Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-7325. They will notify the appropriate agency or respond directly.
Tell other paddlers and small boaters how they can help protect wildlife. Marine mammals and migratory birds are protected from harm and harassment by the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Sanctuary Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Marin County Open Space District Code. It is against the law to harass wildlife. This includes intentionally causing seals or birds to flush.
“PADDLE” is adapted from “Seals and Sea Kayaks” published in the Spring 1991 edition of Sea Kayaker magazine by Winston Shaw, Director, Coastal Maine Bald Eagle Project.