Tuesday, November 18, 2014

La Jolla, California - What a Seal-ly place this is…

I blogged about La Jolla or “The Jewel” in California but I feel  compelled to elaborate a bit(a rant of sorts)… There is a controversy brewing with the residents of La Jolla. What might be the problem in such an idyllic place you may ask? Well  for one, there are an awful lot of seals residing there.  Why are seals the problem? Well with a lot of seals there is also awful lot of seal poop… The stench that arises from one particular part of La Jolla is adjacent to a many small taverns and eating establishments. I can pretty much tell you I certainly wouldn’t want to be eating outside at a nice restaurant overlooking the beautiful La Jolla cove while trying to discern the flavors of my $35.00 entrée with that stench …

These harbor seals are very shy animals and scare pretty easily when disturbed on land. These coastal marine mammals  are of the scientific order Pinnipedia and are entirely harmless.They vary in color from white to a shiny gray, jet black or even a dark brown but nearly all harbor seals have spots on their bodies. They grow to 5 to 6 feet in length and might weigh as much as 300 pounds (males slightly larger than females).

In La Jolla’s Casa Beach there are approximately 200 harbor seal which mate and have pups during the months of February through April when the beach is closed off to humans (another complaint of the residents). Like humans seals carry their young for nine months and the pups will nurse on their mother's milk for 4 to 8 weeks keeping the beach closed for a good while.

When not mating or rearing pups harbor seals are out in the open sea feeding mostly on fish. According to the residents they are depleting the fisheries in the area (yet another complaint). When not fishing they must haul-out (come out of the water onto dry land) each day in order to survive where they will spend as much as 40% of their time “sunning”.   And while on shore they do what most animals do… relax, poop and pee… a lot!!!

Anti-seal activists who oppose the seasonal closure of Casa Beach in La Jolla from December 15 to May 15 every year filed a lawsuit in October of 2014 challenging the city of San Diego’s decision to prohibit people from going onto the beach. Although the harbor seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act there is no real enforcement at Casa Beach. We saw this firsthand as tourists (including Sharon) got really close to a sea lion sunning on the beach for pictures despite the 50 foot distance specified by law.

The latest complaint has come from swimmers and snorkelers who say aggressive seals are scaring them away. There are many residents who think that that since there are more seals in the area there will be more incidents.

So what do I think about all this hubbub? Well first of all there are really two issues here. One is the mating season and calving of nursing of pups by the harbor seals. The other has nothing to do with the seals themselves… You see most of the stench from excrement is a combination of birds, seals and sea lions (Not just harbor seals). Many residents complain about the water pollution being caused by the excrement but clearly (to me) we are likely creating more pollution (and likely more harmful to the environment) than the birds, seals and sea lions.

It is also very unlikely that harbor seals are being aggressive to anyone and the sea lions are once again the most obvious culprit in those incidents. Sea lions in the area number as high as 300 and they are larger in size ranging from 100-pound females to 700-pound bulls (and can get even larger). They can be very aggressive during the mating season since they have a small harem of females to protect. Also because of their size I am sure they and their poop  actually cause much of the stench near the restaurants.

Now they too are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act but are so at the lowest level of protection. So how are these residents that are on opposing sides going to solve this issue? I surely don’t know but from an outsider’s viewpoint (who worked as a Biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife) the solution seems simple.

I think they should continue keeping the beach closed to protect the harbor seals who are in need of protection so they may increase in numbers. This will make the environmentalists happy. Next, allow the city to open up the bluffs along the area just beneath the restaurants which will naturally encourage the sea lions to move away from the area. This will make the the anti-environmentalists happy. Lastly allow the city use fire hoses to hose off the rocks where the excrement is the most evident. This should make the small business owners happy.

These actions will likely result in sea lions moving elsewhere while keeping the harbor seals protected. The tourists will continue to flock to this area just to see the seals and spend a lot of their money. Although this won’t make everybody happy I feel it would be a simple and good compromise… which is probably why it will never work…


  1. I can see both sides of this argument. On one hand they are fun to look at, are a tourist attraction and do have their place in the environment. One the other hand, once you see them for more than an hour, you can certainly see how they can be a nuisance. Last year when we were crabbing off the Oregon coast both seals and lions were swimming around the docks. We thought it was pretty cool for a while and took lots of pictures. But once they started robbing our traps of bait we started cursing them and wished they would go away!

  2. I thought you might be weighing in on the seals. They were there long before us and deserve some protection.

    Have you been to Scripps Aquarium? I highly recommend that place and also the LaJolla Historical Society Museum. Penny's sister Cindy is Director of Communications for the Aquarium (call me about admission) and Cindy's hubby is the archivist at the museum.

    Drink lots of beer for me, please.

  3. Last time I was there, I saw a newborn pup. It was very exciting. I hope the harbor seals continue to be protected.

  4. What a great analysis of the problem and excellent set of solutions. This would make a great letter to the editor. I'm on your side. If there is somewhere else for the lions to go then it sounds like this might make everyone happy, a very rare thing in environmental stand offs.