When footage of a boater poking a sleeping sea otter in Alaska surfaced this week, the video instantly jumped to viral success. Yes, the otter's reaction is cute (everything otters do is cute), but the media seem to be forgetting one important thing: doing this is illegal.

Not equipped with insulating blubber, sea otters must rest about half the day to stay healthy, so disturbing them in the wild can be particularly harmful. Purposefully doing so violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a crime that can result in prison time and up to $11,000 in fines. 

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW), the Alaskan population is particularly vulnerable to pressure from human activity, making this wake-up call all the more problematic. "Numbers have declined in southwest Alaska over the past 20 years," they explain. "Once containing more than half of the world’s sea otters, this population segment has undergone an overall decline of at least 55–67 percent since the mid-1980s."

Interactions like this aren't just dangerous for otters, they're dangerous to humans as well. The fluffy mammals pack a serious bite, and are known carriers of several transmittable diseases. In fact, many veterinarians will not accept sea otters into their clinics because of this. 

The moral of the story is simple: if you see a napping otter, the best thing to do is sit back, relax and bask in its cuteness. A hands-off approach to watching wildlife is better for everyone involved. Besides, who likes being woken up from a mid-afternoon nap?


Top header image: Mike's Birds/Flickr