Seals win key victory in long-running saga with humans
by DAVE SCHWAB
Mar 07, 2014 | 24059 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The City Council opted Feb. 24 to prohibit human-seal contact with the seals at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season from Dec. 15 through May 15.
The City Council opted Feb. 24 to prohibit human-seal contact with the seals at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season from Dec. 15 through May 15.
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Harbor seals got a flipper version of a thumbs-up in the seesaw battle over shared use at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool after the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to close the beach to human contact during the marine mammals’ five-month pupping season.

District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who represents La Jolla, along with Mark Kersey of District 5 and Scott Sherman of District 7, cast dissenting votes.

The pro-pinniped vote came after Lightner’s motion to oppose city staff’s recommendation to approve Children’s Pool seasonal beach closure from Dec. 15 to May 15 was defeated 6-3.

The Feb. 24 vote came after three hours of public testimony in the decade-long battle over co-existence of the two species at the crescent-shaped pool.

The Children’s Pool was created in the 1930s by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning as a safe wading area for children and ocean recreationalists.

Beach-access proponents argued before the City Council that the seasonal beach closure was both unnecessary and unwarranted.

Seal enthusiasts countered seasonal closure was essential to protecting seal mothers and pups. Their argument was bolstered by numerous videos depicting seal harassment by humans.

Citing her “20-year record of community activism” and “passion for supporting neighborhoods,” Lightner said she’s “never been supportive of a seasonal beach closure.” She said a year-round rope barrier and ranger are in place at the pool to keep the peace between humans and pinnipeds.

“There are better ways to balance the needs of humans and marine mammals,” Lightner said adding she couldn’t believe the Scripps’ trust creating the pool could actually be interpreted to “eliminate physical access to the beach.”

Lightner argued that appropriate studies have not been done to assess the impacts of a seasonal beach closure on the surrounding marine ecosystems.

“I’m concerned that we’re drawing a line in the sand that we do not need,” Lightner said, adding she felt the beach closure would “set a chilling precedent that public, physical access to the beach provided for in the Coastal Act is not guaranteed.”

Lightner described the seasonal closure of the Children’s Pool as  “regulatory overkill.”

District 9 City Councilwoman Marti Emerald disagreed with Lightner’s perspective.

“Just because a very generous member of the community more than 80 years ago donated this pool doesn’t mean we have to continue along that vein as times and circumstances change,” Emerald said. “It’s also become abundantly clear that this tiny piece of beach with its harbor seals has become a regional and national treasure, as well as having gained international recognition.”

“We should have reverance and respect for wildlife,” noted Emerald pointing out that isn’t in evidence “from the reports we’re seeing about abuse of the environment and overfishing.”

Pointing out “many people will never have the opportunity to see the miracle of birth in nature,” Emerald made her countermotion to approve the seasonal closure of the Children’s Pool to protect the seal rookery.

Several La Jollans spoke against the seasonal beach closure.

“Seals are not an endangered species. Their population is exploding,” testified Phyllis Minnick, adding “harrassment is a myth.”

Others agreed.

“As a result of human activities, the balance of nature has been changed,” argued La Jollan Mike Costello, a scientist. “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

Costello is an advocate of doing a comprehensive management study to figure out best practices for dealing with pinnipeds.

Ken Hunrichs, president of Friends of the Children’s Pool advocating beach access for people, said seasonal closure would have the net effect of “criminalizing beach use.”

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department lifeguard Ed Harris, who has presented an alternative plan to beach closure which envisions using faux boulders, which can be moved to encourage use of the beach by either species, chided the city for not being open-minded, warning, “You’re really setting this up for litigation if you go through with this plan.”

Seal enthusiasts sporting name tags saying “beach for seals” defended the seasonal pool closure.

“It isn’t safe for baby seals to share the beach with people,” said Ellen Shively, speaking for the Seal Conservancy of San Diego. “Sharing the beach during pupping season does not work.”

Shively showed video footage depicting people prompting seals as a group to flush into the ocean, as well children touching seals, “as if this were a petting zoo.”

Attorney and animal-rights activist Bryan Pease claimed the majority of San Diegans favor greater protection for seals during their pupping season.

“This is the final step in a management plan voted on in 2010,” Pease said. “Harassment has been ongoing.”

Others agreed.

“You are the last defense for the seals. The buck should stop with your vote today,” said Carolyn Price.
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