Once upon a time, a sea otter was sleeping while floating in the ocean, peacefully unaware of a nearby boat of gawking, giggling humans.
While the otter napped, possibly dreaming of tasty sea urchins, one brazen onlooker decided to reach out and poke the poor creature. Naturally, the sea otter jolted awake in apparent terror before scurrying away into deeper waters.
While many laughed off the video for being "hilarious" or "adorable," marine biologist David Shiffman took to Twitter to scold netizens. He also pointed out that touching a sea otter is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
According to both acts, it is unlawful to harass, pursue, torment or annoy certain marine mammals, including sea otters, which are considered threatened under the ESA. It is actually unlawful to even attempt to do any of the aforementioned things. Violators could be fined up to $20,000 and face up to a year in jail.
Moreover, human-to-sea otter interactions can end in injury to both the animal and the human.
"If [sea otters] feel unduly threatened, they will get aggressive," Carrie Goertz, staff veterinarian for the Alaska SeaLife Center, told The Huffington Post. "It’s also just not smart, as they have sharp teeth and claws; some refer to them as 'chainsaws with fur.'"
Humans can also catch a zoonotic disease just from handling or touching sea otters, according to Francesca Batac, a lab technician with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
And, as we all know, sleep is good for everyone -- including sea otters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a blog post on Wednesday explaining why the sea otter should've just been left alone to nap:
Not equipped with blubber like whales and seals, sea otters must rely on their fur coat and their super-high metabolic rate to stay warm. The average adult sea otter has to actively hunt and eat 20 to 30 percent of its body mass in food each day just to meet its energy requirements. That's why it's incredibly important for otters to conserve their energy - their survival depends on it - so they are often seen resting on their backs on the water's surface.
As viral videos showing people swimming, playing with and touching wild animals become increasingly common, it's important to remember that wild animals are wild and there are rules in place that are meant to protect their populations. In other words: Know your boundaries.
"Taking photos is fine," Shiffman advised a Facebook commenter. "Approaching closely or otherwise disturbing them to take a better photo is not fine."
Watch the full video below, as uploaded to Live Leak.
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