Some members of La Jolla Parks and Beaches city advisory group say adding a gate to reinstate public access to the bluffs above La Jolla Cove would both disperse the cormorants believed to be causing the ongoing stench, and provide access to lifeguards and Park and Rec staff for removing dead birds and marine mammals from the bluff.
Tourists strolling above La Jolla Cove last week need only gaze out at the ocean to spot at least five dead sea lions, the carcass of one marine mammal drooping morbidly from a coastal rock formation like a Salvador Dali clock.
The deaths are the result of an unexplained starvation epidemic among young sea lions that has researchers from SeaWorld and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scrambling for an explanation.
It also had residents questioning whether anyone is responsible for removing the remains. Until a remedy for the sea lion pups’ mysterious affliction can be found, more such deaths are expected. NOAA has deemed the crisis an “unusual mortality event.”
In the first three months of 2013, SeaWorld rescued 264 malnourished and dehydrated sea lions along the San Diego County coastline. During the same period last year, there were only 32 sea lion rescues (the average is 27).
For all counties dealing with the crisis — including San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura — the historical average sea lion rescues from January to March is 131. This year, there were 1,098 rescues during the same period, with sea lions coming in at about a quarter of the weight they would normally be.
La Jollan Mary Ellen Morgan said the nearly desiccated carcass of at least one sea lion had been on the rocks above the Cove for more than a month.
“When we have tourists coming down, it’s not our best moment to have dead sea lion debris,” Morgan said, noting that the smell of the decomposing animals could exacerbate the existing odor problem caused by bird excrement on those rocks.
The City of San Diego’s Dead Animal Removal department responded to a report of the remains, though Morgan said they left the dead seals, citing “inaccessibility of the bluffs.” The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said they do not dispose of dead marine mammals.
San Diego lifeguards finally removed four dead sea lions and one dead pelican last weekend. The task of removing dead marine mammals from the shoreline is typically handled by lifeguards or Park and Recreation staff, as long the animals are in an area that is safe to access, and only after consulting with officials at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The federal agency is responsible for the conservation and protection of marine mammals and their habitat, as well as enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
San Diego Lifeguard Lt. John Everhart said lifeguards first contacted NOAA officials about removing the animals April 4.