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News and Resources

Impacts on Local Wildlife - February 17, 2019

Social media has generally been thought of as having a positive impact on wildlife - from connecting wildlife enthusiasts and raising awareness to coordinating rescues and releases. However, wildlife lovers may need to begin thinking about the consequences social media poses on the beloved and diverse species that migrate through our area. The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology has determined that excessive use of social media can harm birds and other wildlife. Even eBird, a popular resource for birders to record the birds they see, has asked that the exact locations of sensitive species are not disclosed. Everyone, including photographers and birders, has some impact on wildlife when they interact.

We live in one of the most diverse areas on the East Coast in regard to wildlife and rare species migrants. It can be very easy to become excited when you encounter one of these species. Whether it is a bird or marine mammal, the first thing we tend to do is get out our camera and take a picture. However, we must understand that there are consequences to the readiness of photographers getting too close or wildlife observers overcrowding an animal. The excessive use of social media can harm birds, seals, and other local wildlife. Whether it is the elusive Snowy Owl or the adorable Harbor Seal, please respect viewing laws during these special moments. These animals need to rest and do not need to feel threatened or stressed by people. They can migrate great distances and are resting for a reason – large amounts of people may cause them to expend energy that they need to conserve. Enjoy the moment but please do not list their location, or even better, wait to post any photos until the animals has moved on. A balance must be created between enthusiasm and harmful habits.

Seal sightings in Delmarva, both in the bays and ocean, are a normal occurrence during the winter months. Our winter visitors are extremely popular with wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike. Seals are semi-aquatic animals, which means they often spend a portion of each day on land. Seals need to ‘haul out’ for a variety of reasons; to rest, pup, and molt or shed. Young seals may haul out for up to a week at a time. The seals we see on our Delmarva beaches are normally young seals that have hauled out either to rest or they are in distress. When disturbed by people, these seals will go back into the water which can cause them to become even more distressed.

Seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). It is against the law to touch, feed, or otherwise harass seals. Harassment occurs when your behavior changes their behavior. The rule is to keep at least 50 yards, or four car lengths away, to give them their space. Avoid being noising and report hauled out seals to the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) by calling 410-576-3880 or 1-800-628-9944. Like our cherished Assateague ponies, seals are large wild animals and can be extremely dangerous. When disturbed or threatened, they will bite, and serious infections can be transmitted to you or your pet.

When viewing any wildlife, it is important to take into consideration the health and safety of not just the animal, but yourself as well. Try to limit viewing time to minimize disturbance and keep a safe distance away. With the proper behavior, we can help our local wildlife stay happy and healthy.

Emond is an intern with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and senior at Stephen Decatur High School.



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