Stay away from cute seal pups

February to April is pup season. Harbor seal pup season, that is.

Harbor seals are a thriving, indigenous species along the California coast. Too often though, visitors to California’s beaches try to approach or move baby harbor seals when mama seals leave them unattended to hunt for food.

The problem is that this kind of intrusion often leads to mother seals rejecting their pups due to human contact. Because of this, spectators are asked to stay at least 100 yards away from seal pups at all times.

Breaking up seal families isn’t just not cool. It’s also highly illegal. Possessing or moving marine mammals onto land is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 established stiff penalties for the taking of sea mammals like otters, porpoises, seals, sea lions and a host of others.

The California Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the habitat of coastal mammals. Earlier this month, the Commission accused Drakes Bay Oyster Co. of violating an agreement to restrict boat traffic in Drakes Estero during seal pupping season.

In a letter to owner Kevin Lunny, the Commission also said Drakes Bay discharged marine debris into Drakes Estero and operated boats in protected areas during puppy season.

The letter accuses Drakes Bay of repeated violations since 2007, and demands a response by next Wednesday. Drakes Bay Oyster Co.’s license to conduct oyster farm operations in Point Reyes National Seashore hangs in the balance, as a once-though automatic renewal of their permit — set to expire in November — now appears less certain.