Monday, August 30, 2010

Chapter 16: Vanished

I don't really care to dwell on the issue of the disappearance of the lone kayaker, Bryan Maybee. Certainly, there are things we know about the incident that seem to indicate poor choices on the part of the paddler, but because he disappeared and the body was not recovered, we will never really know for sure what happened. We could speculate, but the possible scenarios could cover everything from being caught in rough water to being abducted by aliens (neither of which can be proved or disproved). So instead, I'd like to focus on the issue of interacting with wildlife on the water.

One of the things that many of us really enjoy about kayaking is the opportunity to observe birds, fish, marine mammals, and many other creatures that are drawn to the waters where we paddle. A satisfying and successful interaction between humans and animals should meet two criteria:

1. The paddler needs to stay safe.
2. The animal should be left safe and undisturbed.

While kayakers do face certain risks from wildlife attacks (great white sharks, bears), in most cases, it is the animals who are more likely to be harmed by encounters with humans.

For the most part, there are only a very few actual laws that govern the actions of people when observing wildlife. In the sidebar article, Chris Amato discusses the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act. The kayakers in the above video are obviously much closer than 100 yards. If you are more than 100 yards away and a marine mammal chooses to come closer to you, you have not violated the MMPA. However, it is considered to be very poor practice to intentionally park yourself directly in the path of the animals knowing that they will need to come very close to you as they pass. You should be setting yourself up in a location which parallels the animals direction of travel.

Here in the Midwest where I paddle, there are practically no marine mammals in our waters. We do need to be aware of some of the endangered species, particularly birds nesting on islands and shores where we might want to land or launch.

However, one other piece of legislation that kayakers should be aware of is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds. It grants full protection to live and dead birds as well as bird parts such as feathers, eggs, and nests. There are currently over 800 birds on this list of protected migratory birds including many that people might personally consider nuisances and pests. When we are kayaking, we should attempt to avoid disturbing birds that are perched on breakwalls, jettties, or on shore, or water birds that are swimming. As mentioned by Chris Amato, every time we disturb a bird or animal requiring it to fly, swim, or otherwise move away from us, we are causing it to use up some of its precious energy reserve that will likely be needed for mating, migrating, hunting, and/or staying warm in a cold climate.

It probably isn't possible to avoid disturbing every single bird (or animal) we see while kayaking, but when you notice larger groups of animals congregated in the water or on shore, it should be our practice to move away from them and give them a wide berth as we pass. If an animal reacts to your presence, you are too close. If you desire a closer look, bring binoculars.

What wildlife experiences have you had in your kayak? What is your general practice when you see animals on or near where you are paddling? Have you ever felt that you were in danger from an animal encounter while kayaking?