Future of Seal Cam monitoring at La Jolla Children's Pool in limbo

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Mayor Bob Filner addresses a crowd gathered above Children's Pool beach earlier this year heralding installation of the Seal Cam. File

By Pat Sherman

As the city prepares to demolish the old, condemned lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool beach, questions remain about the future of the Seal Cam mounted atop the old tower — particularly, who will be tasked with monitoring the streaming video used to file reports on the harbor seal colony there? And how much money will the city allocate for this service?

At the June 24 La Jolla Parks and Beaches meeting, Board Chair Dan Allen reported that in July the City of San Diego Park and Recreation department would assume operation of the Seal Cam at Children’s Pool beach, as stated in a monitoring plan issued by the city in May.

The city’s partner in the project, Sara Wan of the WAN Conservancy (which paid for the Seal Cam, its installation and some hired camera monitors) told

La Jolla Light

she believes her nonprofit organization will continue overseeing Seal Cam monitoring, though Lee Burdick, the mayor’s Director of Special Projects and Legal Affairs, said the city is still evaluating whether it is more cost effective to monitor the Seal Cam with city employees, or to outsource the job to WAN Conservancy.

Burdick said WAN Conservancy’s original estimate to continue monitoring the Seal Cam was $283,000 per year.

“We have asked them to go back and evaluate that in light of things like the beach being closed at night during pupping season,” Burdick said. “Do you really need to monitor (at night)? Would that cut costs?

“So they’re evaluating their budget. Then, once we get their budget, we’re going to have to look at the expenses that would be involved with the city doing it, and then figure out what is the most cost-effective way to do it for the citizens of San Diego.

“At the end of the day,” Burdick said, “it’s (up to) the city council as to whether they want to budget the money for that purpose and if they believe that’s a good use of the city’s dollars.”

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) required the monitoring plan as a condition for issuing a coastal development permit for the year-round guideline rope spanning Children’s Pool beach (intended to keep humans a safe distance from seals). The three-year plan requires that the city measure the number of seal harassment instances at Children’s Pool, including humans disrupting the marine mammals’ behavior patterns, including migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering.

The plan also states that “authorized data collectors” are instructed to report harassment observed via the Seal Cam, or shown to them in video or photograph form by random observers. Cases of harassment will be documented with other data — including the number and location of seals and humans on the beach at any given time — and submitted to the CCC’s executive director in an annual monitoring report, due one year to the date the CCC issued the coastal development permit (May 16, 2013).

According to the plan, data collectors will be trained by the park ranger assigned to Children’s Pool, and can include “any volunteers the ranger believes may be helpful in assisting in the data collection process” (wording which, presumably, allows for the use of those currently volunteering with, or in the employee of, the WAN Conservancy.)

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