Guest commentary: With more sea lions at Point La Jolla, great white sharks won’t be far behind

Visitors take pictures near sea lions at Point La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Kurt Hoffman)

This commentary originally was written as a letter to San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, city Parks & Recreation Department Director Andy Field and LaCava policy advisor Brian Elliott.

I and many other Ocean Access Advocates would have been happy to participate in the Point La Jolla California Coastal Commission discussion described in the La Jolla Light article [“Coastal Commission weighs in on managing ‘out of control’ human/sea lion situation at Point La Jolla,” Dec. 16] if we had been made aware of the meeting.

The fact that [Sierra Club] Seal Society folks acknowledge that Point La Jolla is the only Southern California sea lion birthing area is direct evidence of its unnatural and man-aided existence. As noted in the report [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sea lion population report revised in March 2019], sea lions historically breed on our coastal islands, not the mainland of California. The lack of natural predators and humans on the coastal islands is why these islands are the preferred birthing location for sea lions.

Ocean Access Advocates worked as a cohesive group of bodysurfers, divers, fishers and swimmers to draft letters, approved by wide majorities of La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees (twice) and La Jolla Parks & Beaches members [requesting that the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department modify a proposed seasonal Point La Jolla closure map to exclude Boomer Beach and that the Coastal Commission require the city to issue an environmental impact report on the present and future environmental effects arising from its actions over the past 25 years — coastal development permits, amendments to the Local Coastal Program and emergency closures of public coastline — that have “allowed establishment of breeding colonies of two species of pinnipeds (sea lions and harbor seals) in the urban setting of La Jolla”].

The windswept rocks along the coastline of Point La Jolla are home to a year-round rookery of California sea lions.

I don’t profess to have a crystal ball into our marine environment, just 50 years-plus experience on and in our local waters. This is why an EIR is needed before any further “emergency” closures of Point La Jolla. I had not encountered a great white shark in the wild until July [2021]. I now carry a tourniquet on each of my stand-up paddleboards, as I donate SUP tours to local charities. I have encountered numerous mako and thresher sharks off La Jolla, and eaten a few as well; I am quite familiar with the distinct aspects of our local shark species. The 25 great white sharks I encountered this summer off Torrey Pines State Beach and Del Mar were definitely great whites and they will return [in 2022]. With few seals off TPSB and Del Mar, La Jolla is the very likely location where we will see numerous GWS’s feeding on seals and sea lions next summer.

It may take a serious shark attack on a La Jolla Cove swimmer or a Boomer Beach bodysurfer to get this issue recognized for the ecosystem manipulation that it is. That will be tragic for the family of the swimmer or diver, but this was the only way progress was made on supplying tourniquets to Cape Cod [Mass.] lifeguards and the serious shark warning signs illustrated in the New York Times article “Fear on Cape Cod.”

The seals and sea lions bring the tour bus crowd that may patronize Ellen Browning Scripps Park and unregulated tent retailers, but not George’s and Eddie V’s or the Girard Avenue retailers. Most of these eco-selfie tourists do not venture up the hill into La Jolla. Trying to say the seals and sea lions are good for La Jolla business will no longer hold water once we see numerous shark attacks in La Jolla. The 6- to 10-foot-long GWS’s I encountered over a three-month period last summer off TPSB and Del Mar will very likely show up off La Jolla Cove and The Shores next summer in search of sea lions.

City of San Diego lifeguards should be brought into this discussion, as they will be risking their lives to save folks who will very likely be hit by GWS’s in The Cove and The Shores this coming summer. San Diego lifeguards already carry tourniquets — they know what dangers lurk in our local waters. Soon our tourists will as well.

Ellen Browning Scripps Park needs a complete rebuild. We need to work together to focus on the real issues in the park, not the non-emergency on Point La Jolla. Human and sea lion interaction is not a crime or a cause for closure of our very limited ocean access areas. The emergency is the underminded low retaining wall, poor access to Boomer Beach, unconnected call box and 100-year-old trees. Palms are littering the park and a 100-year-old palm tree could fall and kill someone in Ellen Browning Scripps Park. That would be an emergency, not the eco-selfie tourists.

These tourists are ill-informed of the dangers of a sea lion bite. A few well-placed seasonal K-railings on Point La Jolla with better signage could solve this issue.

We pose very little threat to sea lions — they have sharp teeth and the heft to knock the wind out of us in the water or knock us over on the rocks. The Seal Society reports of humans causing harm to sea lions on Point La Jolla are unsubstantiated in lifeguard or park ranger reports, only Seal Society hearsay propaganda.

Kurt Hoffman is a member of Ocean Access Advocates.