It happens every year, on every coastal region of the world: one or more wild animal babies are seen by humans, who immediately determine by their cries, or just the fact that they are alone, that the animal(s) needs help. Seals and otters are the most oft-interfered with wildlife, who tend to be quite vocal when they’re very young, which can understandably lead someone to think the animal is in distress. The natural inclination of many is to personally take action, often trying to get close to the animal or even handling it. However, this is a rash decision, and should not be made on a whim. There are some critical things to consider before you intervene.
First of all, it is not possible to do a proper assessment of the situation on sight, or even after an hour. Mammal mothers often leave their young alone for periods of time while they forage for food. Seals and sea lions have been known to leave their young unattended for days at a time, whereas other mammals, like otters, will fish for just a few hours between peeking in on the kids. Experts from the Alaska SeaLife Center are often approached about abandoned marine life when it really is just nature at work. They advise to observe an animal you believe to be abandoned for at least 12 hours before taking any action.
Oftentimes animal babies will be crying out, which seems like another distress clue. This is not always the case. Sea otter pups actually vocalize more if the mother is within range, so just because the young animal appears to be alone does not mean it is!
It is important that you do not approach any wild animal babies for a few reasons. Wild animals of all kinds are extremely sensitive to the smells of other creatures, and the smell of human within their territory can be enough to cause them to relocate, sans babies. If a sea otter is actually removed from its place in the wild, it can not be returned, so it is vital that you refrain from “helping” wild animals by touching them in any way.
If the animal does happen to be injured, it’s especially important that you do not try to handle it, as it may attack out of fear and pain. There’s no reason to put two living creatures in need of medical care — call the appropriate authorities. As a rule of thumb, you should maintain a distance of 100 yards away from wildlife to avoid being perceived as a threat.
Make sure you have some kind of contact information for marine wildlife officials if you live in an area where marine wildlife is common. Any injuries or concerns should be reported directly to them, or a police station at the very least. There are just too many possible negative effects for the animal and yourself, no matter how well-intentioned you may be! Take the necessary precautions, and every side will benefit.