Your View: A call for honest discussion about sharks, seals

By Roger Raffee
La Jolla

L. Jordan-Smith follows one fallacy with another in dismissing concerns that human-sponsored intentional increasing of the seal population in La Jolla will increase the possibility that great white sharks will visit the area.

First she stated as true an untrue statement that great whites’ movements do not follow the movements of seal populations. Then she made another fallacious argument by revising her earlier statement to then stating that because historically great whites have not been drawn to the meager seal population in La Jolla that we therefore have nothing to worry about.

Her new statement is true but is a new fallacy because it completely ignores the issue being addressed. I agree that historically great whites haven’t been paying much attention to the seal population in La Jolla. The real question is whether or not that will continue to be the case if we intentionally encourage increasing the seal population in La Jolla in the future.

Ms. Jordan-Smith also accuses me of trying to scare La Jollans. I’m not trying to scare anyone — I’m scared.

I am 52 and have been surfing all over California and Hawaii since I was 7 years old. I prefer surfing with no leash. I like the exercise I get swimming in for my surfboard. I used to surf the big waves on the North Shore of Oahu, and all over the Hawaiian Islands. I didn’t like the feeling of the leash dragging in the water behind me tugging at my leg, slowing me down. I used to surf Sunset Beach on Oahu all winter with no leash. Many surfers use their leashes as lifelines to climb up when they get shoved down deep out there. It takes a lot of skill and being in incredible shape to surf with no leash at Sunset Beach on a regular basis.

I’ve seen tiger sharks all over Hawaii —no more so than on the island of Kauai. I’ve seen the silhouettes of the large ones out in the clear blue ocean from shore. I’ve seen them meandering up the coast. I’ve seen them when I looked down as they swam by just before I jumped in the water. I saw one on the crest of the next wave one time, heading straight for me. It went underneath me right before it reached me. I didn’t realize how scared I was until a friend paddled up and looked in my eyes. I couldn’t speak or move, but we both could hear my teeth chattering. He yelled at everyone to go in. I was left stuck out there until I got the nerve to paddle in. Strangely enough, I was the first to go back out an hour later in to the perfect surf. Something about the experience made me feel as though that shark wasn’t interested in me that afternoon.

I’m no stranger to swimming with sharks. I saw my first (and so far only) great white about three years ago at North Bird here in La Jolla. It was a cloudy gray day. I was on shore watching the waves. It was swimming north at what seemed like 25 miles per hour. It didn’t meander slowly like a tiger shark. It was moving in a straight line, fast. It surfaced and submerged three times. It reminded me of a submarine. It was big, maybe 15 feet or so. It was a rush to see that thing. Whew!

I’m not trying to scare anyone. Sharks are scary enough by themselves. I’ll be the first to admit that I am very afraid of them. I really do want to know whether or not it is safe to intentionally increase the seal population here. Will it attract great whites to our waters? There is a huge population of great whites to the north, about 200 to 800 miles from here, especially around the Farallon Islands by Drake’s Bay at the Point Reyes peninsula, north of San Francisco. As Ms. L. Jordan-Smith points out they come down here to give birth and raise their pups. If they discover a new source of their favorite food down here in La Jolla will one or two of the big ones be enticed to hang around?

It’s true they are generally not considered to be after humans for their meals but they do accidentally take a bite out of humans now and then. It’s going to be more dangerous to go in the water around here if we have an increase in the number of great whites lurking about. All it will take will be one or two to stake out this area as their new territory.

The thing I have always liked about coming home to San Diego from Hawaii is that I don’t have to worry about, and keep a look out for sharks here. It’s been such a relief to come home and not surf in shark-infested waters. It’s been real nice surfing here, in our relatively super-safe waters. One of the absolutely safest areas in the world as far as shark attacks are concerned. I agree with Ms. Jordan-Smith on that point and that’s exactly why I’m concerned. I’m afraid that’s changing.

Fifteen years from now La Jolla may be infested with a very large seal population and a few regular great white predators. By then they will have accidentally removed a few limbs and the breath of life from a few people. We’ll wonder why we didn’t have an honest discussion about this topic. It’s worth more study than just a quick dismissal from one self-proclaimed “expert” like Ms. Jordan-Smith. What exactly are her credentials? Can we get actual esteemed oceanographers from Scripps to take a serious look at this question and report to us on this subject? I think we should.

Related posts:

  1. Opinion: I don’t want a seal rookery
  2. Children’s Pool ranger salary could be better spent
  3. Your View: Harmony at the Children’s Pool on the 4th
  4. Student View: Save Our Seals
  5. Community View: Seals ‘attended’ the celebration at Children’s Pool

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Posted by Staff on Nov 30, 2011. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

24 Comments for “Your View: A call for honest discussion about sharks, seals”

  1. James

    So you're saying you spend a lot of time in the water and because of that you've seen sharks? Not sure what the problem is there! It's the ocean there should be sharks and seals and fish. One shark fatality as occurred in San Diego County in the last 50 years! 50 years! Top notch predator should be able to tell the difference between a yummy blubbery seal and a skin surfer. If you're so scared don't go in the water.

  2. cyberKICK

    What scares me the most about the seals, is that it is an artificially high number. In the wild seals have to worry about land predators, disease, injury, etc. Here if a seal get sick or hurt sea world rescues the seals. Then on land people have chased away all their predators. I'm concerned that the predator population will continue to rise. This is in the middle of a city, not a wildlife sanctuary.

    • James

      It's not in a city it's in the ocean! Swim at your own risk is that how you want jumping the Clam to be? If there's an "unusually" high number of seals then the (allegedly) growing number of sharks should fix that problem. I thought Sea World only took in animals injured by humans?

      • cyberKICK

        Sea World rescues seals from all over, but releases them very close or right on the beach at The Children's Pool.. About 150 seals so far. Since seals don't migrate, they stay in the general vicinity (seals do move up and down the coast 25 to 50 miles a day, but turn around and go back). As Doyle Hannan has said, this one beach is not important to the seals. If beaches are not in the city, and only in the ocean, then why does the city have to make rules regarding how we can use the beach? Mind you, The Children's Pool is a man made beach. Even in a court of law it was found to be man made. Also, swimming is always "at your own risk"… who elses risk would it be?

        • James

          The City makes lots of rules about how to use beaches ex. smoking, drinking, fire, vehicles. Heck the city even makes rules about how to use the water ex. where to surf, kayak, swim, and boating. Why should the CP be any different?

          • cyberKICK

            Because according to you, it isn't in the city. City law only applies to places within the city.

          • cyberKICK

            Make up your mind James… first you said it is not in the city it is in the ocean, now you are saying it is not in the ocean…

        • James

          It's kinda funny that both you and APRL dislike SeaWorld

          • cyberKICK

            I don't dislike Sea World. They didn't decide to release the seals there. They were instructed to by Mayor Susan Golding. Sea World releases animals in accordance with rules ans regs. This is according to Sea World's release to the public. Write them and I am sure they will share this documentation with you. I have also found it on their website…. sorta hard to find though.

  3. James misses the point or more likely doesn't care about the point. My opinion is that people with James point of view don't go in the water, and that's why they don't care. The point is whether increasing the seal population will increase the number of predators. There have been 3 fatalities in 50 years, not 1, and 2 of those in the last 15 years. Yes, I've swam with a lot of sharks I've seen in person, but as I said in the posting, all in Hawaii, and not here. Every surfer who lives for any solid length of time experiences the terror of swimming with Tiger sharks eventually. It's not a pleasant experience. It's not a "so what" or "who cares" type of experience. It's terrifying. If increasing the seal population increases the Great White population then it's a foolish thing to be doing with the population of recreational ocean users that we have here. It's one thing if you don't have a choice, like our neighbors to the north, it's an entirely different thing down here where we seem to be choosing to increase the likelihood of death and maiming by predators without any real reason why we should be except that a whole lot of people who don't go in the water like to look at the seals on one man-made beach that wasn't created for that purpose in the first place. -Roger Raffee

  4. Sorry, this in my posting above: "Every surfer who lives for any solid length of time experiences the terror of swimming with Tiger sharks eventually. " was supposed to be this: "Every surfer who lives in Hawaii for any solid length of time experiences the terror of swimming with Tiger sharks eventually."

  5. >>The ocean is where the sharks are. CP is not the ocean. I have yet to see a shark >>climb out of the ocean. I know orcas have been know not slide up on shore to get a >>yummy seal treat but not sure if sharks can do that.

    There are two schools of thought. One is James point of view. He doesn't go in the ocean and could give a hoot about people who do. He more than likely thinks that people who go in the ocean are crazy and should have their heads examined. He doesn't care at all that increasing the seal population will bring an increase in predator activity because he thinks we humans don't belong in the aquatic environment anyway. Sharks aren't climbing up on shore as he says..Then there's people like me, the minority. For me surfing is a way of life. My dad was a surfer and sailor from Malibu back in the 50's and I was raised to be in the water here in Point Loma and La Jolla as far back as I can remember. Living life completely outside of the water isn't much of an option for people like me. James and the people who don't care about ocean-oriented people are saying we don't count and our concerns are of no concern to him. He's entitled to his opinion but let's call it what it really is. Callousness. Insensitive. Close-minded.

    • James

      Or you could just be making up things?

      I actually love going in the water grew up snorkeling at CP and was a Junior Lifeguard played water polo in high school and still enjoy surfing (granted not nearly as accomplished at surfing as you claim to be) I'm not worried about the sharks I don't even give it a thought I even paddled out in Solana Beach after the shark attack a few years ago. I'm way more concerned with stepping on a stingray.

    • James

      It's not that at all. I just believe your fear to be irrational. I'm grew up here in San Diego as a youngster I participated in the Junior Lifeguard program, spent my days swimming and surfing even played water polo in high school I'm and Eagle Scout spent many many weekends and even a few weeks out backpacking and camping. While in college I taught canoeing and kayaking at the Lake Hodges Aquatic center. I still surf (not as much as I'd like).

      I feel that your concerns are un-warrented. I have never paddled out and thought for a second about a shark coming to eat me. Sharks don't eat people but accidents happen so yeah sure it's a possibility a shark could bite me or you or anyone but you could also be hit by a car crossing the street(which has happened to me, don't worry I'm ok and I still cross streets). Your shark encounter does sound a bit scary and it would probably freak me out too. I have an irrational fear of snakes I still go camping and hiking. I'm probably more aware of them then I need to be. Once while canoeing down the Colorado river I went to pull over and reached out to the edge of a cliff and almost grabbed a baby rattle snake luckily I did not! It didn't lead me to write to the local paper about how everyone should be scared of snakes hiding in the natural habitat!

      Please don't assume you know anything about me and I won't assume to know anything about you.

  6. cyberKICK

    Good points Roger Raffee. We should be doing everything we can to keep everybody safe. Sheltering a lot of food for ocean predators seems like an unnecessary risk.

  7. I noticed in the newest opinion published by L. Jordan-Smith she again dismisses my concerns by saying that La Jolla will never compare with regards to piniped population to the Farallon Islands. That wasn't the issue and because she doesn't want to concede the obvious argument she instead tries to change the point of discussion.
    The issue is whether creating a seal colony here makes it more dangerous to be in the ocean in La Jolla than it used to be before the seal colony was created. The seal colony was created by Sea World as a dump off point for recovered seals. Sea World will continue to dump recovered animals there as long as they are allowed to do so. The maturity and gestation rate of seals therefore is only part of the factor in increasing the seal population at Children's Pool.
    Sharks aren't going to climb out of the water in to the big city as James rightfully claims but we in the city are going to climb in to the shark's territory. It's the shark's territory now because we're feeding the sharks a piniped population that didn't exist before 8 or 10 years ago when Sea World started dumping them at Children's Cove instead of taking them out to the old rookery on San Clemente Island.
    Great Whites used to pass by here once in a great blue moon, very rare occasions. Now there's enough of a piniped population to sustain at least one permanent Great White, or maybe a family of them thanks to the Friends of the Seals and people like L. Jordan-Smith who want to make pets out of shark food.

  8. James wrote ;

    >>Please don't assume you know anything about me and I won't assume to know >>anything about you.

    James, I don't believe my fear of sharks is irrational and whether it is or not is actually besides the point. The issue is whether or not planting a seal colony where there never was one increases the presence of Great White sharks in the area, and whether increasing it some more in the future will further increase their presence. Whether I'm scared and I care and you're macho brave and don't care is not the point.
    We should be having an honest discussion about whether it's been an intelligent decision to put a seal colony where there wasn't one from the point of view of whether it's also making it less safe to go in the water, and even less safe in the future as the seal population grows.
    Saying I have an irrational fear doesn't answer this question. I surfed in Hawaii, and surfed up north where there are lots of sharks. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't care whether or not we significantly increase the danger of being in the water in La Jolla.
    I was a junior lifeguard too at the Kona Kai Club where I grew up in Point Loma (so what…it's something you do when you're 12..) . My mom had a dress shop called "Something Mad" here in La Jolla which she started back in 1966, and my best friend lived in La Jolla. My mom moved here when I was a teenager. I'm what you call a hard-core surfer. I don't canoe. I don't kayak. I wasn't an Eagle scout (far from it). I'm a surfer. I am addicted to surfing like an addict is addicted to heroin. There's quite a few surfers like me in San Diego. I'm not claiming to be unique but I do feel I speak for the over-whelming majority of hard-core surfers. I'm sure if you took a poll or asked around at the beaches here in La Jolla you'd find way, way more of the local dedicated surfing community feel as I do about this subject then how you feel about it.
    We die-hard surfers are just one small part of the ocean water-men community but we should be listened to on this subject.

  9. >>Once while canoeing down the Colorado river I went to pull over and reached out to the >>edge of a cliff and almost grabbed a baby rattle snake luckily I did not! It didn't lead me >>to write to the local paper about how everyone should be scared of snakes hiding in the >>natural habitat!

    This is really unrelated to the conversation about increasing seal populations in La Jolla and the affect it has on public safety. I suppose if you lived in a tent in a canyon along the Colorado River and they were parachuting rattle snacks to the ground around you then that might be somehow comparable.
    Dude, I think I was right about you. You don't get it, and I really doubt you're much of a surfer. You may have surfed a few times in your life but that doesn't make you a dedicated surfer..who is genuinely concerned about the habitat where he spends a lot of his time.

    • James

      There have always been seals and sea lions in the area they are not a foreign species released into the La Jolla area. The idea of an increased number of seals attracting sharks seems reasonable. Your fear of them does not.

  10. >The idea of an increased number of seals attracting sharks seems reasonable. Your >fear of them does not.

    There have always been a very small handful, if that, at the cove on any given day before Sea World began dumping recovered animals there. Before Sea World began the current seal colony there might have been 0 to 5 seals on or around seal rock usually, depending on the tide and wave heights. Once in a great while you'd see more than that.
    Back in those days if we saw a seal in the water while we were surfing it was a novelty, an unusual occurrence. It isn't a novelty any more. It's an every day occurrence. Great White sightings are up too.
    You have your opinion that my fear is irrational but I got this fear, not only for me but for all the young kids who love to learn to surf at Windansea and all the tourists and surfers at La Jolla Shores. Maybe the new Great Whites in the area won't chomp any humans but if they do, even if by accident thinking the humans are seals, does it matter? I think it will have mattered and it would have been worth having Sea World take all those seals out to San Clemente Island like they used to and should have been doing all along.
    This is the place where I get to say what I think. You said what you think, and people can decide for themselves..

    • James

      According to the La Jolla Light there's been one confirmed shark fatality in San Diego County in the history of people living in San Diego County.
      Am I naive enough to believe there will never be another? No, I expect there to be another eventually but should that panic people? Because some guy with no study into the subject thinks someday someone will get bit by a shark? No that's ridiculous.

      Could there be more sharks because of the higher number of seals? It's possible but I can quote the La Jolla Light:
      The number of local sightings of sevengills has increased, said Lerum, though he wasn’t sure that was because there are more of them or because water users are more aware they’re out there and are looking out for them.

      All you've shown is your phobia and a lot of maybes. Who knows what the future will bring I could give you a ton of maybes to explain pretty much anything doesn't make any of them true or even likely. I don't know how you live your life (other than a lot of surfing) but I don't live mine worrying about all the crazy possible things that might go wrong. If people did there might not have been a man on the moon, a first flight, a ship sailing to a distant content or a guy shaping a surfboard. But hey, It's Monday night I'm gonna go walk across the street to watch the football game hopefully I'll make it but you never know it's a dangerous world out there.

  11. cyberKICK

    I couldn't agree more. This is a highly populated area, with lots of swimmers, divers, children, surfers, etc. We should take care to not make things more hazardous than they need to be. We should certainly start dumping the rescued seals off San Clamente rather than right here in a children's pool. How do you propose on getting the others to go there too? I can't swim that far, but seals do follow me every time I swim near the children's pool.

  12. >>We should certainly start dumping the rescued seals off San Clamente rather than >>right here in a children's pool. How do you propose on getting the others to go there >>too?

    Sea World put them at the Children's Pool. Sea World could easily round them up and take them out to the island.
    By the way, there is misinformation going around in the online postings by the uninformed that there are other seal rookeries in Point Loma and around Southern California. That's false. There are seals in the harbor in Point Loma, mainly sleeping on the buoys and around the bait dock but there is no beach in Point Loma where seals gather and sleep. I know every beach very well and surfed every beach there from the jetty to Ballast Point in San Diego Harbor. There aren't very many seals in Point Loma. When you surf there you'll be less likely to see a seal than here in La Jolla. There aren't any large congregation of seals any where in Southern California except out in the Channel Islands.
    I've been surprised that some people posting say there is a rookery in Point Loma. I grew up there. Surfed everywhere a wave breaks there, slept on the beaches at the end of the point when I was a kid. Never saw a rookery. It doesn't exist. People make dumb assumptions without knowing what they're saying.
    In the old days the sparse vegetation and land predators, and the indians, kept seals from congregating in large numbers on the beaches here in Southern California. The same is not true in Central and Northern California. There is no beach down here, south of Point Conception, that compares to beaches up north with regards to seal populations.
    It goes to show that many people who write about this issue are very ignorant about the subject.

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