Man Fined $500 for Harassing Seals

By Lindsay Hood
|  Tuesday, Mar 8, 2011  |  Updated 11:00 AM PDT
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Man vs. seal both are just trying to enjoy the beach!

Man vs. seal both are just trying to enjoy the beach!

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He was playing catch with his seven-year-old son on a sunny Sunday afternoon, when Eric Bizzigotti's Nerf football went too far and rolled several feet near a rookery of seals sunbathing on the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla.

The consequences: a ticket for $525 and a trip to a U.S. Federal District court to plead his case.

Bizzigotti says he didn't receive the ticket until days after the Feb. 20 incident. Special Agent Michelle Vetwo with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration presented the citation to him after getting his contact information from a friend.

A single father, Bizzigotti likes to take his son down to the Children's Pool on the weekends. He said it is common for him to get harassed by either seal activists or law enforcement officials when he is there but this is the first time he has ever received a ticket.

A video published online shows a separate trip to the Children's Pool. Bizzigotti and his son are seen on video playing Frisbee about 10 feet apart, approximately 30 feet from the seals, when he is approached by lifeguards and other officials and told to stop.

"My son would have had to throw it 80 feet to disturb the seals," Bizzigotti said.

Meanwhile, right next to them other beachgoers can be seen in the video clip walking right up to the seals for pictures in plain view of the officials.

Bizzigotti said during the Feb. 20 incident lifeguards approached him and told him he was upsetting the people up on the pathway and that he was causing a riot. He claims the lifeguard said if he kept playing Frisbee, it could get out of hand and scare some seals.

According to Special Agent Vetwo,  disturbing the seals violates title 16 USC 1372 (a)(2)(A) in the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which states it is unlawful for any person or vessel or other conveyance to take any marine mammal in waters or on lands under the jurisdiction of the United States. She added the statute includes causing any kind of disturbance or inflicting harm on a mammal.

The violation is a misdemeanor under federal law, Vetwo said and she admits the agency doesn't hand out tickets often.

"It's based on the facts of each incident and the evidence," Vetwo said. NOAA has jurisdiction over all marine mammals and all federal waters, which starts 3 miles offshore.

The violations can be witnessed by other government officials, like lifeguards or park rangers or even members of the public, like the person who shot the video of Bizzigotti and his son playing Frisbee. Vetwo says she can use tapes to investigate and find out if a crime actually did occur.

Vetwo couldn't comment about the Bizzigotti case since it is an ongoing investigation.

"[We've] been going there about 2 to 3 years, the seals don't bother us," Bizzigotti said adding that . seal activists have nicknamed him and his son the "Frisbee Boys.”  He said he knows to leave the seals alone.

No word on when Bizzigotti goes to court, he was told the court date is “in the mail.”

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