We’re dismayed by the response from the media and general population to a widely-shared video from British Columbia, Canada, showing a sea lion leaping out of the water and pulling a small girl into the harbor by her dress after the girl, her family and other tourists were feeding the animals.
Despite what port officials said in media interviews and wrote on new signage at the wharf, it has not stopped people from flocking to the tourist destination to get a glimpse and snap pictures of the now-famous California sea lion. And news sources are now posting inflammatory speculations about the girl having an infection, despite the fact that it has not been confirmed and that it’s just a medical precaution.
The reality of the situation is that the sea lion was not jumping onto the dock with the intention of eating the child, like many would like to believe, but in search of more of the food the people lining the dock were throwing.Sea lions, as well as many other types of wildlife, are not known to be violent, though, and are generally more curious about humans than aggressive toward them.
But while this sea lion may not have meant harm, the girl could have been seriously injured. Feeding wild animals comes with significant risks–and can have a long-term impact on the animals. Here are 4 reasons why it’s best to keep your distance when observing wildlife and why feeding wild animals can have disastrous consequences.
1. When young wild animals are taught to depend on a human-provided food source, they may not fully develop essential foraging skills. Animals who are raised relying on humans for food may struggle to survive in the absence of that artificial food source when they disperse from their parents' territory.
2. Wild animals who are used to being fed by humans commonly lose their fear of people. Animals who are unafraid of people will approach them for food, and are sometimes mistaken as rabid, aggressive or mean, then killed for that behavior. They also become easy targets for kids with BB guns and others who mean them harm. An instinctive wariness of people is important to a wild animal's survival.
3. The food humans usually feed to wild animals is not nutritionally complete, and it can cause serious health problems for the animals, especially when they are young and still developing. Most wild animals are opportunistic and will concentrate on the easiest food source available. When a constant human-provided food source is available, animals who would normally have a varied diet may switch to eating mainly this constantly available food. Just like humans, most wild animals need a variety of foods in their diet, and if they fill up on "junk" food, they will not get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Because most people will feed animals food that they have in their house - people food - which bears no resemblance to what the animals eat in the wild, it really is junk food to the animals.
4. Reproduction rates may also be affected when an artificial food source is readily available. In the wild, the number of animals being born is often directly related to the amount of natural food available. The number of animals surviving will also depend on how much food is available. This is nature's way of keeping a balance. When an unnatural food supply becomes available, animals may produce more young and soon there may be more animals living in the area than what the natural food sources can support.