To quash La Jolla Cove odors, city seeks advice from other sea lion towns

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To reduce sea lions at La Jolla Cove (and to create an overall plan to reduce their odor), San Diego officials are analyzing methods employed by other municipalities along the California coast that have unwieldy sea lion numbers.

By Pat Sherman

San Diego city officials all the way up the office of Interim Mayor Todd Gloria are working toward a solution for the pervasive stench at La Jolla Cove — the source of which city officials say is now largely from the excrement of a sea lion colony there.

The city spent about $100,000 this year on two separately timed applications of environmentally sensitive foam that eliminated years of pungent bird excrement from the cliffs above the Cove.

Though the work seemed to temporarily rid the Cove of its reek — the odor has returned, nearly as pungent as before.

Outcry from La Jolla merchants who have lost business from the smell prompted Stacey LoMedico, the city’s new assistant chief operating officer (formerly director of park and recreation) to issue a memo stating that city staff would consult the city’s risk management department and city attorney’s office to determine whether an opening and/or gate can be installed in the fence on Coast Boulevard to make it easier for humans to access the bluffs at La Jolla Cove — their presence a possible deterrent to coax sea lions from the area.

Outside assistance

In an effort to reduce the number of sea lions at La Jolla Cove (and to create an overall plan to severely reduce the odor), San Diego city officials are analyzing methods employed by other municipalities along the California coast that have unwieldy sea lion numbers.

The City of Monterey, also experiencing a proliferation of sea lions, has trained staff and volunteers to walk its docks generating noise to shoo them away.

Scott Pryor, a marine operations supervisor with the City of Monterey, said Monterey’s paid “animal behavior modification” specialists have spooked seal lions with the Theremin-like sound produced by wiggling a metal tape measure, by jangling keys or squirting them with Super Soakers — a few of the tamer methods a government may use to thin sea lions or other marine mammal profusions under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

It is estimated that there are as many as 241,000 sea lions residing off the coast of California and Baja, Mexico. Any a given time there may be between 500 and 1,500 sea lions off the coast of Monterey, though during periodic, two-week infestations, Pryor said, as many as 5,000 mostly male sea lions (each weighing an average 700 pounds) have been known to take over Monterey Bay.

The creatures haul out on docks, boat ramps and coastal walking trails, capsize boats, destroy dock plumping and leave large amounts of bacteria-laden fecal matter in their wake.

“All that stuff costs the citizens money,” Pryor said.

Methods employed

In Monterey, which uses the image of sea lions to encourage tourism on its website, public perception is crucial, Pryor said

“To what degree do you want to make it look like you’re hazing them?” he questioned. “The danger is that people think they’re cute. … Mothers and fathers want their kids to get a picture next to an animal that’s unpredictable. It’s about public safety, health and protecting people’s personal property.”

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