Seabird Protection

Seagulls in flight. Seagulls live to be about 5 - 15 years old and are resourceful, inquisitive, and intelligent.

Protect Seabirds and Mammals

Northern California Aviators have a bird's eye view of the region's spectacular coastline. Along with that privilege comes the responsibility of looking out for nature's creatures who lead lives on land's edge. There are laws to protect marine wildlife; here are some reminders of how important it is to comply with them.


Seabirds nest along the coast on most offshore rocks, islands, and cliffs. Flying too close to seabird colonies disrupts nesting activities and causes adults to leave their nests, which can break eggs. Close-flying aircraft noise may also leave eggs and chicks exposed to predators. High levels of disturbance, including frequent incidents or a single, severe event, can cause complete breeding season failure, and/or colony abandonment. Many seabirds also need locations on shore where they are safe from predators to rest, preen, sleep, and in the case of pelicans and cormorants, to dry their feathers. 

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Sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and noisy barking. They are very social animals and often rest closely packed in groups. They have also been seen surfing on breaking waves.

Marine Mammals

It is very important for seals and sea lions to haul out on inter-tidal ledges, beaches, and rocky inlets. At haul-out sites, resting marine mammals can be frightened into the water by low-flying aircraft. During pupping season low-flying aircraft can cause mother and pup to become separated and can result in stampedes that may cause trampling and death. During haul-out times, seals and sea lions are able to nurse their pups, heal wounds on their bodies, and sleep.

To prevent wildlife disturbance

  • Remain at least 2,000 AGL when flying within ¼ mile of the coast over offshore rocks and islands or within California National Marine Sanctuaries. Flying below 1,000 feet AGL is prohibited in specific zones along the California coast and offshore in order to protect wildlife.

  • Flying motorized aircraft at less than 1,000 feet is prohibited over waters within one nautical mile of the Farallon Islands, Bolinas Lagoon, or any Area of Special Biological Significance as designated by the State of California.

  • Avoid sudden changes in direction, altitude, and speed near coastal nesting areas and marine mammal colonies.

  • If birds or marine mammals are observed fleeing or reacting to your presence, vacate the area.

  • Report wildlife disturbances caused by low-flying aircraft to the NOAA Enforcement Hotline: 1-800-853-1964.

    Sandpipers throng along ocean beaches and
    mudflats during migration.

For more information, please read or contact:

Pilots: Know Before You Go! National Marine Sanctuaries

Gulf of the Farallones Seabird Protection Network

San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex

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Gulf of Farallones Pilot Packet

Map of Overflight Regulations Areas
of Northern and Central California National Marine Sanctuaries