Friday, March 11, 2011

Silent presence reduces harassment

Docents play an important role in buffering the space between humans and seals.

Biologist Alejandro Acevedo-Gutiérrez usually studies marine mammal behavior, but lately he's been watching other creatures: human tourists.

While on sabbatical in New Zealand, the Western Washington University scientist monitored visitors to a popular waterfall where groups of fur seal pups rest and play. Overenthusiastic tourists often get too close to the seals, try to touch them, or throw food or objects to encourage them to play and move about.

As the seal pups flee, they are sometimes injured or, worse, trampled to death. But when Acevedo-Gutiérrez's research assistant, his wife, sat on a nearby rock wearing an official-looking orange vest, the number of pestering groups of tourists dropped from 38 percent to 13 percent, even though she didn't tell them what to do.

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