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Guest commentary: The fact is, seasonal closure of Point La Jolla is necessary

Sea lions rest at Point La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Sierra Club Seal Society)

The Sierra Club Seal Society read with dismay the commentary by Ocean Access Advocate Kurt Hoffman (“With more sea lions at Point La Jolla, great white sharks won’t be far behind,” Jan. 6, La Jolla Light). It reflected unsubstantiated comments, misleading and inflammatory statements and provided no scientific facts for readers.

The Sierra Club Seal Society is an official group of the San Diego chapter [of the Sierra Club] with more than 1,500 members and supporters in La Jolla and over 15,000 in the San Diego region. The Seal Society’s goal is to preserve the Point La Jolla sea lion rookery for ecological, educational, scientific, historic and scenic opportunities. With over 1,900 volunteer hours in 2021, docents collected data on the number of visitors in the rookery, number of interactions with sea lions and sea lion population counts. We often collaborate with sea lion experts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine biologists and shark experts to ensure we provide accurate information to the public and decision makers.

We offer the following responses to Mr. Hoffman’s statements:

Statement: “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.”

Response: While no research has been done in La Jolla, scientists believe sea lions washed ashore as early as 2002 from the Channel Islands during a storm. With rocky outcroppings and small beaches and a deep-sea canyon close by with ample food supply, Point La Jolla/Boomer Beach provides a natural habitat for sea lions to reside and breed.

Statement: “Ocean Access Advocates worked as a cohesive group of bodysurfers, divers, fishermen and swimmers to draft letters, approved by wide majorities of La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees 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].”

Response: Unfortunately, the approval process by LJCPA and LJP&B allowed Ocean Access Advocates and their supporters the opportunity to make formal presentations while Sierra Club Seal Society members were given one minute to respond. Further, at last month’s Parks & Beaches meeting, an Ocean Access Advocates board member refused to reveal who was on the sea lion task force and said publicly that the Sierra Club representative asking could not join it.

The city is collecting feedback on the plan and has created a website for comments.

Statement: “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 likely the location where we will see numerous GWS’s feeding on seals and sea lions next summer.”

Response: Shark Lab expert [Chris] Lowe, who collaborates with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and tags and tracks sharks, says “the great white sharks seen in Torrey Pines, Del Mar and Solana Beach are juveniles ranging in size from 4.5 to 9 feet. This is a nursery for them that provides ample food of stingrays, bat rays and fish. They don’t eat mammals yet. No great white shark sightings have been recorded or reported by lifeguards near La Jolla Cove or the Point La Jolla sea lion rookery.”

Statement: “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 … 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.’”

Response: Comparing Cape Cod to La Jolla is not relevant, as [Cape Cod] is home to “one of the densest seasonal concentrations of adult white sharks in the world” [according to The New York Times]. Records show three documented shark attacks on humans in La Jolla since 2000 and none since 2011 [according to the Shark Research Committee].

Statement: “Human and sea lion interaction is not a crime or a cause for closure of our very limited ocean access areas. … A few well-placed seasonal K-railings on Point La Jolla with better signage could solve this issue.”

Response: Violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act is a crime. Harassment is any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance that has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding or feeding. Harbor seal and elephant seal rookeries in California are closed during pupping season. NOAA recommends staying 50 yards from a marine mammal. This is only possible if people stay on the sidewalk.

Statement: “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.”

Response: The Parks & Recreation Department has verified documents of rangers who recorded the large number of harassment incidents witnessed during their weekend presence from September 2020 to September 2021. Lifeguards refused to get involved. The Seal Society has over 100 photos and video evidence of people petting, throwing sand, taunting sea lions, and sea lions lunging and snarling in response to visitors and children.

The Sierra Club Seal Society is an educational group that uses science-based research and advocates for sea lion pupping season closure of Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach and year-round management of the tourists visiting the sea lion rookery.

This commentary was submitted by docent Robyn Davidoff on behalf of the Sierra Club Seal Society.