Sea lions: New pinniped problem for La Jolla?

Staff Writer

Regulars at La Jolla Cove are beginning to refer to it tongue-in-cheek as the “lion’s den.”

But these lions “bark” rather than “growl.” They’re aquatic not terrestrial. And though not nearly as menacing as their land counterparts, encounters with them are increasingly being characterized as “unsettling.”

“It’s intimidating, it’s unnerving and it’s scary,” said longtime La Jollan Anne Cleveland, who swims daily at the Cove and claims the sea lions there are becoming more aggressive and colonizing, now considering Alligator Head, Razor’s Reef and Million Dollar Reef to be “their territory.”

One can’t get close to the sea lions new “domain” in and around La Jolla Cove without hearing their bellowing from some distance away — or sensing their intimidating presence in the water, say some Cove users.

“They patrol back and forth,” noted Cleveland. “One Sunday when I was here there was a big one right at the shoreline  … It looked like he was trying to keep people from coming into his territory.”

Until recently, La Jolla’s “lions” have taken a back seat in notoriety to their smaller, more demure cousins —  the harbor seals — around the corner in the Children’s Pool. For years, the seals have been embroiled in a political and legal tug of war over their presence displacing humans and their waste fouling the pool.

But sea lions are quickly becoming the new talk of the town. The reason: Not only their growing numbers and audio and visual distraction, but, like seals, their waste too pollutes local waters.

“It’s become a toilet,” said Cleveland.

“I have to keep the door closed,” agreed Manuel Aguilar, who works up the hill from the Cove at La Jolla Athletic Club at 1202 Prospect St. “It’s loud,” he said. “That doesn’t really bother me as much as the smell does: It kind of comes and goes.”

Aguilar said plenty of club members, 90 percent of whom also swim at the Cove, have complained about lion noises and smells. But he added, “It’s not like they have a representative you can talk to.”

And though she can’t conclusively prove it, Cleveland insists there are other health concerns for humans posed be sea lions at the Cove.

“I’m afraid dysentery-like stomach bugs and ear infections have become common among regular Cove swimmers,” she said in an e-mail to First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner. “I have had trouble with both for most of this year.”

How much of a problem sea lions have become — or are becoming — at the Cove is a matter of conjecture. But one thing about them there is undeniable.

“The population is much larger than it has historically been in the last 25 years — for sure, particularly between the Clam and the Cove,” said Lt. John Everhart, the lifeguard in charge of La Jolla. “It’s been a gradual increase, but more drastic in the last five years — probably double.”

Everhart said people are complaining more about sea lions, but added such complaints are more about fear then cause.

“They’re loud and they’re large animals and people are nervous swimming around them,” he said. “But we haven’t had anyone injured by a sea lion or anything like that.”

It’s also difficult, said Everhart, to discern which creature is most responsible for unpleasant odors at the Cove: sea lions, birds or sewage runoff from humans.

Should ocean users at the Cove be concerned about the growing presence of sea lions there?

Yes and no, said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Long Beach.

“They’re more territorial on land than they are in the water,” he said. “When they approach people in the water, it’s more of a curiosity factor.”

But Cordero pointed out it might not be wise to swim in areas densely populated by sea lions.

“They’re one of the prime foods for large sharks like whites, which could mistake humans for pinnipeds,” he said adding, “It’s a good idea, even if there are no shark sightings, to be aware.”

There’s one more thing about sea lions that’s not likely to change.

“Sea lion populations are with us to stay,” noted Cordero. “They’re just going to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

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  4. Walter Munk reflects on UCSD’s impact on La Jolla
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Posted by Dave Schwab on Dec 1, 2010. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

18 Comments for “Sea lions: New pinniped problem for La Jolla?”

  1. Phony Bologna

    I guess the La Jolla Swim club should invest in those swim-in-place pools for there homes when the Sea Lion activist move in and close the cove….

  2. kimberly dove

    hell lets kill off the seal lions and the seals..this animals had to adjust to human ways of is not there fault…what is wrong with you …this is nature…it is not there problem..everyone is in it for money..smells like poo go clean it up like i don every night at the nusing home .someone has to do it…you people at there in out for the buck…shame on you all…i was proud of being born and raised in calif…i am glad i live in a small town..pop 800,,,i love my wildlife here..deer,,turkey..geese..etc…my own grand kids can love the widlife out here,,,not in calif..shame on you all…Kymberlee

  3. Andrew Bergeron

    SHAME ON THE LA JOLLA LIGHT FOR PRINTING SUCH AN ARTICLE ON THE FRONT PAGE!!!! Seal Lion/Seal Pollution? Are you kidding? How about the tons of human pollution floating around in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas which is killing animals by the thousands. That is pollution.

    You're article has little point besides a woman who "claims" that Sea Lion pee gave her an ear ache and a reporting of increased population (which should be celebrated). What gives me an ear ache is the speeding traffic from Torrey Pines through Prospect street going 45mph in a 25mph zone filled with pedestrians. This is a REAL problem.

    I agree with Phony, let the La Jolla Swim club get a pool and get some control over La Jolla's "more-elite-than-nature" population.

    Please LJL, try not to waste any more natural resources (paper) with this type of junk journalism.

  4. JoAnn

    I agree with the other posts. We have taken over their homes, beachs and their food supply so now we complain when they want to claim back some of their territory. Get real. It was theirs in the first place. Just enjoy the wildlife and appreciate their beauty. These are wonderful amazing creatures. Lets give them a break.

  5. annarondac

    With the new Sea Lion population, the article states that they will draw sharks. The Cove is an international diving spot along with swimmers swimming to La Jolla Shores and back. The new Sea Lion population will draw sharks. I think all swimmers and divers should be made aware of this for the safety of their lives. Granted, this is how nature works, but being honest with the dangers is also a needed responsibility and people should be aware.

  6. Ava

    Your article is shameful and simply disgusting!!! Anne Cleveland who fought against harbor seal colony at Casa Beach for years does not like the sea lions either – poor woman, what else doesn't she like: birds because they poop, flowers because they smell? GET OVER YOURSELF SELFISH PEOPLE! The only reason sea lions moved to the cove area is because they've been harassed by divers at the Goldfish Point, so it's the fault of wildlife harassers like Cleveland. Simply awful.

  7. Swimmer1

    Every swimmer I know is a nature lover. We are not elitists who want to drive the wildlife away for our own benefit. But we have noticed more seals/sea lions this season and are concerned. Has this just happened since the Children's Pool has been opened to humans? Have the people there driven the seals over to the Cove?

    The Cove is such a special, beautiful place to swim, snorkel, and enjoy the beach. It is an area for the most part protected from current and big waves, which makes it ideal for swimming. We are all God's creatures and I think we are all meant to enjoy the ocean. It is a dilemma, however, when the wildlife increases in number so noticeably and we begin interacting with them. While I have had only pleasant experiences seeing them in the water, I don't think it's healthy for them or us to be so close together. In this instance I am for segregation, or at least further research on the risks of all of us swimming together.

  8. LawAbidingCitizen

    Prissy nature-hating La Jollans like her excellency "longtime La Jollan Anne Cleveland" are a laughing stock.

    The Pacific Ocean is not a swimming pool. All risks and discomforts cannot be mitigated for the benefit of prissy rich folk. It is a gorgeous wilderness at our doorstep, and we are damn lucky to have it.

    Marine mammals have specific protection under MMPA, Federal law. In fact, substantially more protection in the water and hauled out than prissy La Jollans!

  9. Seal Hater

    I agree there is risk, and let the seals and sea lions join in that risk. We as humans deserve to be in the ocean as much as they do, and if they get scared away………good riddance.


    Its sad as a born and raised La Jollan to see people who dont live here give us advise on what to do with the seals. Now the Great White Sharks are coming. What do we have to do…wait for 2-3 people to die from shark attacks. 90% of La Jollans want the seals removed. They stink , there noisy , and there not wanted. Soon noone will be able to swim along our coast with out being assaulted by sharks, seals, and crazy envoirmentalists. Its a shame.. RSD LJNATIVE

  11. nixon newton

    We can't just take away their home on the beach because its like taking our home away! We can go to other beaches, is America really that lazy!?!

  12. nixon newton

    Who agrees?!

  13. nixon newton

    Who's seen the movie Troy? "Achillies!"

  14. nixon newton

    I love prototype 2!!!

  15. Mark A.

    Hhmmm which do we want more of? Spoiled rich people or unspoiled nature?

    I’ll take the unspoiled nature. It’ll do the spoiled rich some good anyway, to then have to adjust to more wild nature.

    Rather than protecting La Jolla’s beaches from seals and sea lions, lets protect the beaches from snotty La Jollan’s who can’t bear to have smelly seals swimming in their arrogant little bubble-world. So what if seals have a signature smell (a strong fish odor, due to their diets). Deal with it. You’ll be better able to cope with life anyway, and will be more of a real person, if you learn to handle some of the raw side of nature in your own town instead of sanitizing everything. Maturity may follow.

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