Mayor shares details of recently installed ‘seal cam’ at La Jolla Children’s Pool

During a press conference at Children's Pool Jan. 31, Mayor Bob Filner displayed a photo of people standing behind the newly lengthened seal rope, which he said proves humans and seals can share the beach respectfully, and at a safe distance. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner held a press conference atop the steps to Children’s Pool beach Jan. 31, officially unveiling a webcam installed there last week.

The mayor said the city’s new “seal cam” is the only one of its kind on the West Coast, and will promote tourism by providing the public with round-the-clock video feed of harbor seals during pupping season.

“Why not watch the seals?” Filner said during a media event the day before. “I want to see the birth of a seal.”

Joined by former California Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan, and husband, Larry Wan, of the nonprofit Western Alliance for Nature (WAN) Conservancy — which paid $40,000 to purchase and install the webcam for the city  — Filner told the crowd the device would allow people around the world to experience an “ecological miracle” in an “urban environment.”

“To be able to live in this kind of way with respect to nature makes us better human beings,” Filner said. “Yes, this beach is for human beings, but we are better when we respect the seals.”

The camera was custom-built by the EarthCam company, which has designed similar webcams that provide remote viewing of panda and giraffe births at zoos, and the ongoing construction of San Diego’s new downtown library.

The live feed can be viewed on the conservancy’s website (wanconservancy.org) or mayor’s website (sandiego.gov/mayor). Filner also said the seals can soon be viewed on the city’s local access TV station, channel 24, during hours when the city is not airing council meetings and other municipal programming.

“When the mayor said I think it’s a great idea, we went ahead and we had it built,” said Sara Wan, who also thanked former Councilmember Donna Frye, whose “heroic efforts” she said helped her and her husband obtain a Right of Entry permit from the city “as quickly as possible.”

“It was kind of a rush job,” Wan said.

The permit, signed by Filner Jan. 25, allows installation and maintenance of one video camera atop the condemned Children’s Pool lifeguard tower through the end of the seals’ pupping season, May 15, 2013, “to monitor and record seal activity.”

Larry Wan of the Western Alliance for Nature Conservancy spoke about the features of the city’s new ‘seal cam’ at the Children’s Pool.

During the previous day’s press event the mayor confirmed that the city is not charging the Wans for using a public facility to operate the camera.

“Actually, the city should be paying us,” Sara Wan told the La Jolla Light. “They’re the ones who are getting all the publicity … and it’s very expensive to have put up.”

The camera includes automatic lens wipers to clear condensation, and infrared lenses so seals can be viewed at night, when they are more likely to give birth. WAN Conservancy employees scan the beach with the camera remotely, periodically zooming in on seals.

Though some beach access proponents fear the camera may also be used to record and intimidate those who choose to walk beyond the current seal rope guideline, EarthCam representative Steven Puglisi said it would not be used to monitor people.

“It’s our company policy that we do not do that anywhere,” Puglisi said. “The president of the company would never agree to that and is very much anti-big brother.”

Larry Wan added, “The best assurance is, if they’re not out where the seals are disturbing or harassing them, they wouldn’t be in the (camera’s) view.”

Filner sides with the seals
Filner drew a line in the sand on the issue when he sided with seal advocates in December, lengthening the guideline rope on Children’s Pool beach from 130 feet to 152 feet (arguably the rope’s intended length).

After lengthening the rope, Filner ordered city staff to amend its existing rope permits, which it did Jan. 9. A California Coastal Commission spokesperson confirmed that the commission has reviewed and approved the amendments.

Diver David Pierce stood beyond the seal rope guideline during the press conference, reminding people that it is legal to go beyond it to access the water. In the background, beach access advocate and diver David Johnson prepares to enter the water.

Filner told those in attendance that the camera will be used for “scientific” purposes and not for enforcement of the rope barrier — though he assured the public that harassment of seals would not go unpunished.

“If we have somebody here, whether it’s a ranger or a police officer all the time until we settle this, that should be enforcement enough,” Filner said. “People will be cited for a violation of local and also federal law. … We’ll do it through the proper channels; we don’t want to stir up an unnecessary battle here.”

On the beach below, diver David Pierce reclined beyond the guideline rope next to a large sign that read: “Beach open for swimming and diving: please respect the wildlife.”

Several adults and children, perhaps emboldened by the sign’s message, strolled the shoreline beyond the rope.

Though the rope was installed merely as a guideline to deter people from venturing too close to pregnant seals, Filner seemed somewhat unclear of its intended use, at one point chastising adults and children on the beach below. He also said Pierce’s sign was not legal and promised to have it and other such signs removed “in a legal way.”

“Apparently, some people don’t want to abide by the law, or respect nature,” Filner said, motioning to the beach. “I’m not sure that these kids are learning either. They’re not respectful of nature, and they’re not respectful of the law. …

“I can find 80,000 places for those kids to swim and to snorkel,” Filner said. “I can only find one place for the seals.”

Asked by beach access proponent Melinda Merryweather if he was knew it is “alright for people to cross the rope,” Filner responded, “It is not.”

“We were asking for a respectful appreciation of the seals,” he added, “and if we can’t get it out of respect, we will then do it by ordinance.”

Though dogs are not permitted at Children’s Pool beach, in a rare sight a young woman visited Children’s Pool beach with her cat during the mayor’s press conference.

Sara Wan said additional human activity on the beach had caused the seals to leave the beach, or “flush,” to rocks hugging the adjacent seawall where they were resting as Filner spoke.

Filner told the gathering that the webcam had been vandalized the prior evening, but was back in operation.

According to Larry Wan, the lens had apparently been “sprayed” with fluid. Its wipers were then turned on remotely to clean the lens. Wan said the conservancy paid y to have someone come clean the infrared lenses.

Filner called such vandalism “unacceptable.”

“We’re going to enforce this a lot better,” he said. “We cannot allow these few people to spoil this incredible international opportunity for people all over the world.”

During her opening remarks, Sara Wan thanked La Jolla seal activist Dr. Jane Reldan for initially proposing the webcam. (Campaign finance reports show that between July and October of 2012, Reldan donated $850 to Filner’s mayoral campaign.)

“I’ve spent the major part of my life working to protect the coast of California, first as volunteer, then with 15 years on the California Coastal Commission,” Wan said. “When Dr. Reldan asked me to get involved, I immediately knew that this was most appropriate for me.”

Given the conservancy’s financial investment in the camera, Sara Wan said she would like to see it installed again next pupping season, or potentially during the summer if the city and coastal commission were to approve a year-round rope.

“Whenever the rope is present we’d have it — and that may be only during the pupping season — but we haven’t made that decision,” she said, adding that she hopes donations to the conservancy website will help offset the cost of the camera.

“It would be nice to recover some of it,” she said. “We’re a small nonprofit and we’re doing this service for the city at no charge, and I think the city understands what a benefit it is to them.”

Related posts:

  1. UPDATED (Jan. 25): Webcam to monitor seals installed at La Jolla Children’s Pool
  2. Mayor promises increased monitoring at La Jolla Children’s Pool, says rope should be up year-round
  3. Commission cuts down year-round seal rope permit request for La Jolla Children’s Pool
  4. Coastal Commission to rule on year-round seal rope July 11
  5. UPDATED: City Attorney says ‘shared use’ working as La Jolla seal rope reinstalled

Short URL: http://www.lajollalight.com/?p=101212

Posted by Pat Sherman on Feb 1, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News, Seal Watch. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Comments for “Mayor shares details of recently installed ‘seal cam’ at La Jolla Children’s Pool”

  1. sara ohara

    THANK YOU so much for stepping up and protecting those that cannot protect themselves, the seals. You are a man of your word and I am looking forward to helping you in any way I can.

    You promised and you came through – so rare these days!

  2. Califia

    “Apparently, some people don’t want to abide by the law, or respect nature,” Filner said, motioning to the beach. “I’m not sure that these kids are learning either. They’re not respectful of nature, and they’re not respectful of the law. …”

    Oh really Mayor Filner? Implying children playing on the beach at Children’s Pool is somehow a criminal act? Incredible!

    Mayor Filner, the corral you would have the children be confined to behind the “advisory” rope barrier doesn’t allow anyone to get to the shoreline. Not everyone wants to go to the beach and just look at the water Mayor Filner. This beach was constructed to be used by people. Yes, man-made. Not natural. Not “nature”. Inhabited by tamed offspring from Sea World’s release of captive Harbor Seals right offshore. How difficult is that to understand. Your version of shared use isn’t anything more than your own misguided opinion and is not backed up in law; as much as you would like to take away the people’s right to enjoy this public beach.

    How does your flawed thinking square with the intent of the Children’s Pool? A gift to the City and put into Trust. Maybe you should brush up on the Cal. Coastal Act and the Children’s Pool State Tidelands Trust which placed into law and protected the intended uses at Children’s Pool to prevent the political pandering to campaign donors put on full display at your press conference yesterday.

    And now you have enabled a private organization to spy on anyone crossing the “advisory” rope as if they are criminals. Watching seals is great but not really what the camera was installed for. It will be following any person daring to cross that “advisory” rope barrer and try to make them out as criminals.

    Mayor Filner, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Your comments raise some interesting questions for me I guess I am conflicted. Certainly everyone wants children to have access to the ocean and to play at the beach however, the ocean is the territory of sea life. The seals seem to have regained their natural habitat and now are back at this lovely beach. I do believe they have that right. Maybe as humans we have just been squating on their domain and now we must leave it to nature. I guess it is not really the “children’s pool anymore”.I don’t think protecting the wild life is “flawed thinking” I think the CA.Coastal Act would or should protect the sea life.

      • Cheri Aspen

        The seals have not regained their natural habitat. That is ridiculous . There is nothing natural about the Children’s Pool. It is a man made concrete swimming pool . The sand is not natural at all. Take the wall away dear and the sand would wash out to sea in a few hours. No haul out space was ever there. Sea World brought the seals and now the Garibaldi are being devoured. The ramp at the Children’s pool is the Grandfather of Disabled Ramps to the high water mark of the Ocean. Opened to the disabled and families for 65 years or more. It is not about seals they have plenty of beaches to go to . Its about money and the human selfishness to try and care for seals in an unnatural environment and they are raping the ecosystem.

  3. Califia

    “Apparently, some people don’t want to abide by the law, or respect nature,” Filner said, motioning to the beach. “I’m not sure that these kids are learning either. They’re not respectful of nature, and they’re not respectful of the law. …”

    Oh really Mayor Filner? Implying children playing on the beach at Children’s Pool is somehow a criminal act? Incredible!

    Mayor Filner, the corral you would have the children be confined to behind the “advisory” rope barrier doesn’t allow anyone to get to the shoreline at Children’s Pool. Not everyone wants to go to the beach and just look at the water Mayor Filner. This beach was constructed to be used by people. Yes, man-made. Not natural. Not “nature” but Inhabited by tamed offspring from Sea World’s release of captive Harbor Seals right offshore. How difficult is that to understand. Your version of shared use isn’t anything more than your own misguided opinion and is not backed up in law; as much as you would like to take away the people’s right to enjoy this public beach.

    How does your flawed thinking square with the intent of the Children’s Pool? A gift to the City and put into Trust. Maybe you should brush up on the Cal. Coastal Act and the Children’s Pool State Tidelands Trust which placed into law and protected the intended uses at Children’s Pool to prevent the political pandering to campaign donors put on full display at your press conference yesterday.

    And now you have enabled a private organization to conduct “research” on anyone crossing the “advisory” rope as if they are criminals. Watching seals is great but not really what the camera was installed for. It will be following any person daring to cross that “advisory” rope barrier and try to make them out as criminals.

    Mayor Filner, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  4. Amber

    Perhaps Mayor Filner is interested in protecting our children too? There have been several accidents and near misses with automobiles running people over in front of 7-11 on La Jolla boulevard. I was terrified this past Sunday as I witnessed my 10-year-old son barely escape death when an SUV sped past him as he halted in the middle of the crosswalk. What about installing a crossing guard light? PRIORITIZE…SAVE OUR CHILDREN, PROTECT OUR COMMUNITY. Please hear my plea for safety Mayor Filner.

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