By Dave Schwab
Chanting “shared use is abuse” and “just one beach for the seals,” more than 30 seal sympathizers rallied in La Jolla Saturday marching down to the Children’s Pool carrying signs advocating creation of a marine mammal sanctuary there.
Organizers said in a press release the event was a "rally and march to stop the harassment of seal rookery at Children’s Pool/Casa Beach in La Jolla."
They have complained about those who advocate public access to the beach who in recent weeks have been crossing over the guideline rope meant to separate humans and marine mammals. The rope has been up since Dec. 15 when the seals’ pupping season started and is set to come down on May 15.
“Shared use, it’s not working to protect the seals or the natural ecology, so we’re here calling for ending harassment of the seals,” said Tim Rusmisel, who organized the rally which included representatives of Sea Shepherd, the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) and La Jolla Friends of the Seals which operates a docent program at the pool.
Rusmisel noted a small group of people have been moving onto Children’s Pool beach and flushing seals into the water “so that they can set up a barbecue and play Frisbee.”
“Under federal law, that’s harassment,” he said. “We’re asking for the rules and laws to be enforced, keep the rope up, and eventually, we’d like to see the idea of turning the pool into a sanctuary. So we’re here today to raise awareness about those ideas and rally public support.”
“It’s been so accelerated this year, the violations,” said Ellen Shively, president of La Jolla Friends of the Seals. “They’ve (pro-access proponents) gotten organized.”
“It was weak,” said David Pierce, director on the San Diego Council of Divers, reacting to Saturday’s pro-seal rally. “They alert the media because that’s their only friend. I heard people laughing at them as they were walking through the streets. We’re for shared use, that’s city and state policy and law. They amended the trust by lobbying (State) Sen. Christine Kehoe and that created a shared-use beach. It created everything they asked for. Or is it?”
The group of divers was on the beach — for the most part outside the barrier — before the march started at Girard Avenue and Prospect Street. Then one of them walked to the beach in his wetsuit, scaring some seals into the water before turning around to walk back to the area on the beach where they had gathered.
Later, one man posted a sign inside the rope barrier reading "Beach open for swimming and diving. Respect the wildlife."
Before the seal proponents arrived at the pool, a larger group divers left the beach and entered the water from South Casa Beach. Still later, several others skirted along the far end of the rope — where there were no seals — as close to the bluff as they could to get into the water.
Meanwhile, all of their actions were videotaped by the seal proponents, who made a point of letting TV crews at the area above the beach know when the marchers were there.
At one point, one of them even made a point of telling one cameraman to be sure and take pictures of the divers on the beach.
There were occasional heated discussions about whose point of view was right and a silent moment with fists raised among those who want people banned from the beach because "noise upsets the seals," one said.
Back up at the march, Shively said shared use has had negative consequences on marine mammals.
“What I’ve seen is fewer pups this year and a lot fewer pups and moms interacting during the pupping season,” she said.
Shively would like to see shared use at the pool “reinterpreted.”
“If we had a marine mammal park for the protection of seals and the education of people, it would be shared in the way of people being able to observe seals and would also give the seals the very-deserved respite they need,” she said.
“They (people) have plenty of other beach, why do they have to bother the seals in that one little spot?" asked Rosemary Bernier, who, accompanied by her family vacationing from Tampa, Fla., happened on seal supporters gathering this morning at 10 a.m. at Girard Avenue and Prospect Street. “People should keep fighting for the seals.”
Martha Platt of San Diego, a volunteer with Save the Seals, said she’s been “startled" by the level of harassment and disrespect for the harbor seals down on the beach.
“In an era where we are learning to share with animal species — this is really shocking,” she said.
Shively was passing out pro-seal signs and photographs taken by La Jollan James Hudnall, a longtime seal sympatizer, showing people crowding seals on Children’s Pool beach.
“It’s a small group of outspoken people who are bullies and who just want power for themselves,” commented Pam Harris who turned out to protest shared use at Casa Beach.
Tina Minier, a docent for La Jolla Friends of Seals, said she became aware of the problem at the pool walking by the beach seeing “seals being harassed by angry people who don’t want them on the beach.”
“Environmentally, morally and ethically, that beach belongs to the animals and humans can go to any of the other 77 beaches that we have here,” she said. “They come here to nurse and have their babies and to rest, and I think we should respect them for that.”