Seal 'wars' continue at La Jolla's Children's Pool

A harbor seal with her baby on the Children's Pool beach in early February 2010.  Photo: Greg Wiest
A harbor seal with her baby on the Children's Pool beach in early February 2010. Photo: Greg Wiest

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Like the Energizer bunny, the seal “wars” at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool just keep going on, and on, and on …

In the wake of a recent, failed attempt to keep the rope barrier separating humans from the harbor seals up year-round instead of just during the five-month pupping season, incidents involving the two camps have intensified.

In February, pro-beach access advocates filed a complaint alleging the some of the seal supporters stole a beach umbrella with a message that Casa Beach was open for public use. The matter was settled when a judge ordered $30 restitution and allowed the defendants to keep the old umbrella.

Then, on Feb. 20, Eric Bizzigotti, his young son and a friend were playing on the beach at Children’s Pool when a foam football Bizzigotti was using to play catch with his son rolled down the beach into the middle of a group of seals. Retrieving the football flushed a large number of them into the pool. The incident was videotaped by seal advocates who subsequently showed it to authorities.

The following Sunday when Bizzigotti returned to the beach, he was issued a $500 ticket by a National Marine and Fisheries Service agent for the earlier incident.

Bizzigotti said he has 30 days to mail in the fine or appear in San Diego Superior Court. He said he intends, as a matter of principle, not to pay the fine and to challenge the ticket.

“Shared use is great,” he said. “But there needs to be an understanding that people and seals are going to interact. It’s like when you go to the park and the squirrels and the pigeons run away from you. People on the other side (pro-seal) are chanting, ‘Get off the beach. Shame on you.’ People (beach users) don’t want to get yelled at. They don’t want to be made a spectacle of. Harassment, apparently that’s legal.”

Andrea Hahn, the seal advocate who shot the footage that led to the citation, said the situation merited enforcement.

"This citation was long overdue primarily because the participants involved were keenly aware of the dangerous affect their insurgence so deep within a rookery full of newborn puppies and females in the late stages of their pregnancies involves, and simply didn't care to comply in deference to the singularity of their particular political leanings,” she said.

She added that a seal pup born prematurely “as a direct result of their decision-making” survived despite the intrusion.

Meanwhile, beach-access proponents are ramping up lobbying efforts with the city and local community advisory groups urging enforcement of a new permit system requiring “free speech” tables at Children’s Pool to participate in a lottery system, pay a user fee and be licensed.

Pro-seal groups have refused to participate, claiming such permitting is unconstitutional and doesn’t apply to nonprofit groups.

Kenneth L. Hunrichs of Children’s Pool Friends, one of the two groups backing beach access with permits for booths above the beach, has sent a letter to the city’s Park and Recreation Department stating:

“The City of San Diego began a new permit system at Children’s Pool on Dec. 1, 2010. … The presence of illegal vendors has interfered with the financial support our organization needs to conduct our educational activities … As expected, the city-sponsored rope barrier is used as a tool of harassment and misinformation by extremist groups. … The city appears to be leaving the enforcement to individual citizens  … The continued failure of the City of San Diego to regulate the permitted table sites is irresponsible. … . The City is legally vulnerable for any injuries or damages due to lack of law enforcement at the Children’s Pool.”

Hunrichs said no one from the parks has responded. other than to tell them it has been received and passed along to management.

   
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