Viral Video Serves as Reminder of Marine Mammal Safety

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A local woman’s dog within feet of a large sea lion resting on a beach

“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but my dog is a viral sensation,” Lindsay Greenberg wrote on her Facebook page last week. She was referring to the 32-second-long video she posted on the social media platform TikTok that garnered 2.2 million views and 397.4K hearts (likes). 

The video, taken from her beachfront home in Malibu, shows a large sea lion coming out of the water to the beach and going under Greenberg’s deck into the shade. Her dog, also on the sand, tries to “play” with it—he jumps around and wags his tail, but at the same time, the hair is up on his back. The dog appears to be barking at the sea lion, but with the music soundtrack, viewers can’t really tell. The two animals never touch, but they get within a couple feet of each other. 

In the next scene, the dog is on the deck looking down at the sea lion on the beach. In a third scene, the dog is in the ocean swimming through the waves towards the sea lion, which is also in the water. Did the dog scare him off or did the sea lion make it to shore? We don’t know—the scene ends abruptly.

While many viewers loved this video, many were appalled. More than 4,000 comments were made about it, both critical and defensive. 

“You do realize that we’re supposed to leave them alone?” one wrote. Another posted, “Don’t let your domestic animals harass wild ones.”

Greenberg appeared incensed at the negative reactions, personally answering many of them with comments like, “It came up to us on my private property. No one was bothered, and he continues to visit.”

Natalie Parra, a Malibu native now living in Hawaii and working with the Oceanic Preservation Society, wrote The Malibu Times about her concerns, adding that the society had sent the video to an “appropriate enforcement office.” 

“The video is unfortunately getting a lot of attention and the comments are generally misinformed, with the majority seeing it as a positive scenario and expressing their want and even intent to replicate the situation,” Parra wrote.

Executive director Jennifer Brent of the California Wildlife Center (CWC), which handles marine mammal rescue/rehabilitation for Malibu, released a statement about the viral video.

“We were disturbed by the recent viral video of the dog interacting with the Sea lion on our beaches.   It’s never a good idea to allow an owned companion animal to ‘play’ with a wild animal, as results are often disastrous,” Brent wrote. “Behaviors that domestic animals associate with playtime can be perceived as threatening by their wild counterparts. In an effort to defend itself, both the marine mammal and family dog could become injured … Unfortunately, we regularly see marine mammals that have hauled out on our beaches to rest or to warm-up being harassed by off-leash dogs. The owners don’t realize that this is destructive behavior and a threat to the wild animals.” 

In addition, Brent’s statement said, the actions may violate federal law.

“The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) states that harassing, hunting, capturing or killing marine mammals is a federal offense. This act helped save local populations of seals and sea lions that had become critically endangered. According to NOAA, violators of the MMPA could face civil penalties up to $11,000, and up to one year in prison plus criminal fines.”

Marine mammal experts caution the public: If you see a seal or sea lion on the beach, don’t touch, pick up, pour water on or feed the animal. Do not return the animal to the water and do not cover it with towels or blankets, which can cause overheating. Shivering can be a response to stress if people or dogs are too close. 

“Seals don’t always need to be wet. They haul out for a variety of reasons, including to regulate their body temperature and to molt (annual shedding of old hair),” the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) states. “A seal on the beach is there because it wants to be. Pouring water on the animal will be stressful and cause it to expend more energy when it is attempting to rest.”

“Seals encountered on beaches are wild animals that are not accustomed to people and dogs, and they could become aggressive when approached,” IFAW continues. “Getting too close to a seal can cause added stress, and even be detrimental to its health. Humans should maintain the federally-mandated distance of 150 feet from any seal and keep pets on a leash—both for our safety and for the animal’s safety.”  

In the meantime, Greenberg posted a long online missive titled, “Ignore the haters, focus on love;” referring to her critics as “haters” and “keyboard warrior wildlife activists.” She claimed she took appropriate precautions when the sea lion appeared and even called CWC for advice. When they came out and failed to capture the sea lion, she labelled them as the harassers.