When UC San Diego student Skylar Rains started a petition to protect the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, she had no idea it would gather more than 90,000 signatures in less than two weeks. “I’ve been astounded by the amount of support it got, I never expected to get this,” she told La Jolla Light.
Rains said she started the online plea titled “Protect La Jolla’s Native California Sea Lion Population” at change.org to counteract the petition to rid The Cove of sea lions that was started by the La Jolla Community Task Force on California Sea Lions, sponsored by the La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) in November. The task force’s petition garnered 1,500 signatures and was sent to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, urging him to act on the issue.
Rains said, “After I started at UCSD, I fell in love with going to watch the sea lions. I came across a story saying that they were trying to kick the sea lions out of La Jolla Cove, and I decided to do something to save them, so I started the petition.”
For the student, observing the marine mammals in their wild state is a wonder. “Once I watched this sea lion mom give birth to her baby. I got to see that sea lion’s first swim in the ocean and that was just a really amazing experience,” she said.
Dan Simonelli, president of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club and member of the sea lion task force, pointed to some inaccuracies in Rains’ petition to protect the marine mammals. For example, her petition states that LJTC wants to “push the sea lions to a different settlement.”
However, LJTC’s “Call to action” is to deter the pinnipeds from “areas where their presence creates a severe public health and safety problem.” This is, according to Simonelli, just the sandy beach and the stairs leading up to the street. “If they go out on the rocks, there is no plan to disperse them from there, but just where the people are on the beach.”
He also pointed out that many of the 90,000 signatures on Rains’ petition are not from San Diegans. In that regard, Rains said she started to circulate the petition among UCSD students, and she suspects a lot of its support is coming from campus.
“This is an animal rights and a global issue, because if we remove the sea lions of La Jolla, where are they going to go? It’s definitely a matter of significance to more than just the community of La Jolla,” Rains said.
Simonelli continued that spraying the sea lions with water, as mentioned in the petition, is a harrassment method approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. He added, “A statistic from NOAA has found 1,000 more sites where they have determined the sea lions haul out in the California coast, and we only want to disperse them from one small area … It’s not selfish, is that we don’t let the wild animals take over everywhere they want to go.”
In a statement about Rains’ petition, LJTC president Ann Kerr Bache insisted that the motive behind deterring the sea lions from contact with humans is public safety. She writes, “There is no question that a threat exists. The issue is what to do about it. There are two choices — remove the sea lions or remove the people. The community users want to retain these treasured beaches by moving and excluding the sea lions. Rains’ petition deals with the threat by demanding the people be moved and excluded.”
And indeed, Rains’ petition suggests just that. It reads: “As an easy alternative, they should instead focus on rerouting swimmers, residents and tourists to nearby city beaches. Residents of La Jolla and tourists are able to visit La Jolla Shores beach as a safe and favorable alternative.
“What makes La Jolla different from other California towns is that we have the sea lions, there are so many people commenting on the petition that they came to La Jolla to see the sea lions, that eco-tourism really draws people in.”
Rains said she plans to send the petition to Mayor Faulconer, just as LJTC did.
Simonelli commented, “When you play this out in front of the Mayor, (he’ll see) that her petition has 90,000 signatures and he’s not going to want to do anything (to deter the sea lions).
“They are cute marine mammals and were previously endangered — they no longer are — and that pulls the heartstrings of some people … but it’s really a matter of contamination and safety issues,” he said.
One of the safety issues at The Cove is water quality, which lately has seen high levels of bacteria present, allegedly from sea lion waste.
One month without bacteria at The Cove
Since the last “High Bacteria Advisory” issued by the San Diego County Environmental Health Department was lifted Nov. 12, no notices have been posted for The Cove as of this writing. For the first time since the bacteria advisories started in the summer, the swimming spot has been bacteria-free for 30 days, confirmed Keith Kezer, program coordinator of the Land & Water Quality division of the County Health Department.
Simonelli had an explanation for the halt in water bacteria: “There has been a drastically lower number of sea lions at the beach and we attribute that to high tides, which they don’t like. They want to go out to dry areas, and that pushes them off of the beach. It’s another piece of evidence that the contamination is related to the presence of the sea lions,” he said.
To learn more, read the petition here.