The Internet was basically made for adorable animal videos. Unfortunately, some of them really aren't as cute as they are made to seem.
A recent video of a sleeping otter is a prime example of this. A man in a boat approached the otter, poking it in the stomach. When the otter wakes up, it is completely bewildered and thrashes around. Several publications have called the video cute and said the reaction was really relatable.
A Plus reached out to David Shiffman, a Ph.D. candidate studying marine conservation biology at the University of Miami, for comment.
"Wildlife harassment is a serious issue and despite how this viral video is being portrayed, it is not 'hilarious' or 'cute,' " Shiffman told A Plus in an email. "Being startled causes an animal to use energy to react or escape, and it also causes physiological stress."
Though it isn't a big deal for humans to use a little bit more energy here and there, the process is more tightly regulated in the animal kingdom. Because these otters are endangered, being harassed can have devastating effects on the species as a whole.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services responded to the video, explaining why it's such a big deal.
The average adult sea otter has to actively hunt and eat 20 to 30 percent of its body mass in food each day just to meet its energy requirements. That's why it's incredibly important for otters to conserve their energy — their survival depends on it — so they are often seen resting on their backs on the water's surface.
The otters are hardly alone in being exploited for YouTube views. Other marine animals are often approached and harassed by tourists and divers who don't understand the weight of what they're doing.
Videos of primates getting harassed also get shared. Earlier this year, a viral video showed a slow loris "relaxing" with its arms up, as a human scratched its belly. The video has a staggeringly different tone, however, for those who know that putting the arms up is a defensive posture, and the animal is actually extremely frightened. (Not to mention, the slow loris is nocturnal and the bright lights are quite uncomfortable for it.) UK-based nonprofit Tickling Is Torture is hoping to put an end to these types of primate abuse videos.
With many people openly broadcasting their illegal interactions with animals, it is hopeful that more of these instances will result in serious consequences. Over the summer, a Florida woman was arrested after posting pictures on Facebook that show her and a friend sitting on endangered sea turtles who came ashore to nest their eggs.
The people creating and sharing these videos are likely not intending to promote animal cruelty, but that is, unfortunately, exactly what is happening. So, in order to stop these videos from being made under the illusion of "cuteness," people need to be educated that this is wrong and illegal.
Wildlife is amazing, which is why we're all drawn to videos that make them seem more accessible. The thing is, they don't want to be accessible to us. It's better for their survival if they're not.