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Return of the ‘Seal Cam’? La Jolla Village merchants group explores the idea

La Jolla's Children's Pool is closed for five months out of the year for harbor seal pupping season.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Could the La Jolla Village Merchants Association be bringing back the controversial “Seal Cam”? During the group’s Feb. 10 meeting, its executive director, Jodi Rudick, said she’s pursuing such a project, though she had few details.

Rudick introduced the idea of installing a camera on private property to show live video of La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Village, La Jolla Shores and more on computers and mobile devices.

“I’m not going to talk too much about the details because we have lots of stuff in the works, but we are looking at being able to mount a camera … at a location to be kept secret until everything is worked out,” she said. “We want it to be high up overlooking La Jolla so anyone can click on [a live feed] and see the seals [at the Children’s Pool], the sea lions [at The Cove] and up to Scripps Pier, or the waves at La Jolla Shores.

“The price is nominal at around $4,000 for the installation and hardware, and there are ongoing opportunities to create some marketing.”

She said she would model the livestream on the Ocean Beach Webcam and would shop the proposal to other community groups.

“I can’t be any more excited about the things that are going on,” Rudick said.

The concept of “leveraging the seals” and other local wildlife and marine attractions was discussed during a brainstorming session LJVMA presented in December that would provide the foundation for its 2021 strategic plan.

In January 2013, under then-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a camera was mounted on the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower and was dubbed the “Seal Cam.” It was touted as a way to promote tourism by providing the public with a round-the-clock video feed of harbor seals during pupping season (Dec. 15 to May 15 annually).

Former California Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan and her husband, Larry Wan, of the nonprofit Western Alliance for Nature Conservancy paid $40,000 to purchase and install the webcam for the city.

But soon complaints arose that the camera was being used to watch people, not the seals. In March 2013, La Jolla Parks & Beaches members wrote a letter to the city with screen captures from the camera of people at the top of the stairs overlooking the seals and questioned why the camera would have the ability to pan that far if the intent was to look at the beach.

The camera also captured footage of two young women kicking and harassing seals at the Children’s Pool. The story was picked up by news outlets around the globe, sparking outrage over the incident. The women were never found, and some people later questioned the veracity of the footage, speculating that the incident could have been staged to garner support for the Seal Cam.

Seven months after it was installed, the camera was taken down in preparation for the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower construction. It was never reinstalled. ◆