By Dave Schwab
Dueling signs, one reading “Sensitive harbor seals, beach closed,” and the other proclaiming, “This beach is manmade, feel free to cross the rope,” epitomized the continuing debate over shared use there by humans and harbor seals.
Signs were carried by both pro-seal and pro-beach access camps who were out in force April 3 at Children’s Pool on a day when animal advocates had called for a 2 p.m. rally to protest escalating beach use by humans during the marine mammals’ Dec. 15 to May 15 pupping season.
“On the walkway above the pool, seal advocates waived signs and shouted support for protecting the marine mammals. Meanwhile, down below on the beach, a group of about 40 pro-access proponents were camped out on the “seal’s side” of the guideline rope meant to separate humans from nursing seals and their pups.
On the upper-level walkway, three “free speech” tables vied with one another for attention from a crowded group of passersby, which included considerable spillover from the La Jolla Motor Car Classic being held nearby at La Jolla Cove.
Diver John Leek was at a table representing Children’s Pool Friends, a permitted pro-access beach group. There were stuffed animals and other gifts for sale at the table but Leek noted “we pretty much sell them at cost.”
Asked how he felt about the city’s permitting process for tables, Leek said: “The City Attorney has not allowed it to be enforced, so it’s a dead issue.”
Asked what he’d like to see happen, ultimately at the pool, Leek, who is not a La Jolla resident said, “It’s good to me.”
Twenty feet or so further down the walkway volunteer Hasan Gulkun, also a non-La Jollan, was staffing a table run by Earth Life, Inc. selling tie-dye T-shirts promoting environmental causes.
“Our mission is to protect the oceans, the animals and the wildlife,” he said, adding money made goes toward environmental causes.
Brooke Haggerty of SealWatch, a campaign of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, was staffing the third and final table which is operating without a city permit.
“Our mission is to allow the seals to have a little but of space to rest and digest,” she said, noting financial donations for stuffed animals and other gifts being sold by her group goes mostly toward paying animal-advocacy campaign expenses.
“I promise you it’s (funding) not a lot,” she said.
Of permitting, Haggerty said, “It’s not doing much in regulating the situation out here.”
Asked about the ranger who was just hired to patrol Children’s Pool who has been transferred, Haggerty replied: “You can’t put all of that on one person’s shoulders.”
Haggerty added shared use is a “lovely idea.” But she also questioned its viability, noting, “For the sake of reality, we need a compromise to have people on one side (of the rope) and seals on the other.”
Ellen Shively, president of La Jolla Friends of Seals, said the rally was called to show shared use at the pool isn’t working.
“The pro-beach access people have commandeered it (pool),” she said. “This is what shared use has come to: It’s not shared. It’s completely dominated by the people.”
“Our goal is to have full protection for seals and a marine mammal park preserve,” said John Hartley, former City Councilman and Sierra Club member.
A representative of the group camped out on Children’s Pool beach, who requested anonymity, talked about why they were there.
“We’re using a public-access beach,” he said. “Nobody on this beach is anti-seal: We love seals. We just want to have a shared beach. That’s all there is to it.”
David Pierce of the San Diego Council of Divers agreed with that perspective.
“People are tired of these eco-terrorists trying to take over their beach,” he said. “For the last 10 years or so animal advocates have been using threats and intimidation to keep people off the beach.”
Pierce had recent video footage taken of divers and harbor seals interacting playfully and peacefully playing in the back of his vehicle for passersby to see to demonstrate shared use is a reality at the pool.