La Jolla Parks & Beaches asks City for action on sea lion report: ‘Mayor needs to look at what future damage control will cost taxpayers’

LJP&B members like John Shannon are worried that a lack of action by the City will result in an injury-causing incident with a sea lion. Visitors to La Jolla’s coastline often approach seals and sea lions to take ‘selfies’ from the seemingly docile marine mammals.
(Light File)

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory group has been discussing the growing sea lion population at La Jolla Cove and seeking City action to deter it since late 2014. With the release of the Marine Coastal Management Plan (MCMP) earlier this month, the board now feels the City is equipped with steps it can take to this end, and is hopeful the City will act sooner than later. The board discussed the plan during its May 22 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.

The 91-page MCMP plan, authored by marine mammal experts Hanan & Associates, Inc. and released to the City of San Diego’s Parks & Recreation Department on May 1, includes a description of the study area of Scripps Pier to WindanSea Beach, a history of pinniped presence in La Jolla, pinniped and sea bird use by area, a species list for the entire area, a history of coastal protection measures, goals of the Management Plan (which emphasize “educating the public on living with and enjoying our wild resources”), examples of sea lion/seal interactions and subsequent municipality actions in other areas of California, management options and citations.

The MCMP also outlines alternatives the City may consider, which include doing nothing with the caveat that “this method would likely lead to loss of public beach areas as pinniped populations increase,” all the way to “low-voltage livestock fencing.” However the preferred alternative would be: “Implement expanded signage and docents to educate the public regarding pinnipeds and pinniped behavior (and) use the National Marine Fisheries Service approved harassment techniques to try and keep sea lions off La Jolla Cove Beach and any other selected haul-out areas. First test and then if this appears to work, use the technique at other sites chosen for public use.”

The MCMP also states, “The City has decided to move forward to protect pinnipeds and the public by placing gates on the base of beach-access stairs to prevent sea lions from coming up beyond the beaches and thus prevent problems associated with pinnipeds in urban areas.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches chair Ann Dynes
(Ashley Mackin)

LJP&B member Debbie Beacham advocated for this collective action. “We here in La Jolla get so much of the trouble from the smell and the (sea lions’) aggressive behavior that we are in the trenches of this. There has to be a statement from our group, along with other interested parties, that suggests we would like the City to move forward with these action items.”

Should the City immediately proceed with the report recommendations, some argued, it would be in a more proactive position rather than reactive. LJP&B member John Shannon said he worried that with continued lack of action, there could be a sea lion incident that causes serious harm to a person and/or sheds a negative light on La Jolla.

Several noted the recent video that went viral of a little girl in British Columbia who was sitting on a dock and was pulled into the water by a sea lion. In the video, a sea lion pops its head out of the water, and people can be heard tapping on the dock and clapping, presumably to get the animal’s attention. About a minute later, the sea lion lunged out of the water, and bit the dress of a young girl sitting on the dock ledge, pulling her into the water. Spectators screamed and one jumped in to get her.

Hoping to avoid a similar scenario, Shannon said, “We need to get in front of this and make recommendations to the City in line with what the Hanan report says. We should recommend they take these actions sooner than later so we don’t have people injured, where we have a bad encounter that goes viral about La Jolla.

“There needs to be a decision made at the City level, but I don’t think they are getting the full flavor of what is happening locally. The Mayor has not experienced what will happen when you have a small child that is pulled from the beach and into the water at The Cove. It can get to that point if nothing is done.”

Shannon also said he wondered what the cost of reactive mitigation would be. “The Mayor needs to look at what future damage control will cost taxpayers,” he said.

Further, he pointed out the recent increase in shark sightings at Southern California beaches. “Sharks are predators and predators follow prey. There have been Great White sightings just a few miles to the north of us, it’s not like this is in Canada, this is in Southern California. We have more and more prey, it’s just a matter of something happening to a human ... we shouldn’t wait for something to happen.”

In looking at other elements of the MCMP, board members emphasized keeping La Jolla Cove available for human recreation.

Reading from the report, former board chair Dan Allen said, “The last sentence of the report says ‘the City may consider at a later date, procedures to move sea lions from certain beaches.’ We could ask them to move them from the beach at The Cove on a trial basis, per the report.”

Member Ken Hunrichs added, “The City has the option to disperse nuisance animals … the City cannot exclude people from our coastal areas. We have laws that protect our coastal access and places set aside for human recreation.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches member Ken Hunrichs (left) advocates for ‘removal of nuisance animals’ (sea lions) at La Jolla Cove.
(Ashley Mackin)

All said, LJP&B chair Ann Dynes asked Beacham to write a letter for the board to read, review and possibly sign, advocating for the City to act and act quickly. Beacham said the letter would likely be written (either partially or entirely) by Ann Kerr-Bache, who heads the La Jolla Town Council Sea Lion Task Force, which has also been following the issue.

The Task Force formed in July 2016 and has hosted forums and “hearings” about the evolving situation.

The letter will be discussed at the next meeting, 4 p.m. Monday, June 26 at Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.