Mayor’s office says closure of Point La Jolla urged by sea lion advocates is unlikely for now
Sierra Club groups called for an emergency declaration, citing people’s harassment of the animals.
The San Diego mayor’s office says the city is pursuing measures to try to prevent people’s harassment of sea lions and their pups at Point La Jolla next to La Jolla Cove but likely not the temporary closure that the Sierra Club Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego want, at least for now.
Advocates pointed to two recent incidents in which they said a sea lion pup died at the hands of visitors trying to get a photo and a pregnant sea lion suffered severe head trauma.
On June 15, the groups called on Mayor Todd Gloria to declare an emergency and temporarily close the site to the public during sea lion pupping season, which runs from June 1 to Oct. 31, while keeping the viewing area from an adjacent wall open. Point La Jolla is a rocky area between The Cove beach and Boomer Beach, where sea lions often go on land to rest.
David Rolland, senior advisor of communications in Gloria’s office, told the La Jolla Light that “closure of Point La Jolla would require [California] Coastal Commission approval, and that is unlikely to be granted quickly. The mayor is open to exploring that option in the longer term if relevant stakeholders and regulatory agencies can reach consensus on a solution.”
“For now,” Rolland said, “he is committed to already-announced education measures such as new stencils and signs that will be implemented in the next few days, and increasing existing park ranger hours and other enforcement agency presence at Point La Jolla.”
During a news conference overlooking The Cove on June 1, City Councilman Joe LaCava (whose District 1 includes La Jolla) and San Diego Parks & Recreation Department Director Andy Field, joined by other local leaders, announced plans to install signage to encourage “responsible tourism.”
Field said the city anticipated getting locations for the signs “locked down” in coming weeks and that the wording for the signs was being drafted.
LaCava told the Light on June 17 that “while there is no concrete date, the signs and stenciling are in the final stages of approval and should be posted soon.”
In response to the requested closure, LaCava noted that the City Council just approved funding for two more park rangers as part of the new city budget. “These rangers will serve as educational assets to visitors as much as a regulatory authority to the site,” he said.
Sierra Club docents recently presented to local boards such as La Jolla Parks & Beaches and the La Jolla Town Council asking for help with signs or some other deterrent at the site to keep people away from the sea lions, but neither group voted on the issue.
“Unfortunately, the city of San Diego and the Parks & Recreation Department have not put enough resources into controlling the crowds and preventing harassment of mothers and pups,” Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff said in a statement. “With few signs to warn visitors to view the sea lions from a safe distance and with intermittent park ranger oversight, the situation has become critical.”
Sierra Club San Diego chapter director Richard Miller told the Light that the requested closure could involve prohibiting access to Point La Jolla “maybe with a temporary barrier that would stretch along the wall from where the stairs begin over to the La Jolla Bridge Club.”
“We want to keep it open for people to be able to see it from the sidewalk” but prohibit them from getting too close, he added.
Davidoff said keeping the viewing area from the adjacent wall open would provide “unlimited opportunities for the public to experience this natural wonder [while] providing the necessary protection for the sea lions.”
In a letter to Gloria, Miller wrote: “The sea lion rookery at Point La Jolla, directly adjacent to Ellen Browning Scripps Park, is the only mainland rookery on the California coast. This is the first area on the California mainland where sea lions have hauled out in significant numbers and demonstrated a viable birthing and successful nursing of pups. Sea lions are an integral part of the ecosystem there, increasing species diversity and productivity. The millions of tourists who come from all over the world to view them enjoy a unique experience and greatly boost our economy.”
In recent weeks, docents reported seeing harassment of sea lions at that location and La Jolla Cove beach, especially over Memorial Day weekend. Many told the Light that they have seen people who are trying to take a photo kick or bother sea lion pups to get them to lift their heads or corral them into a corner to see them up close.
“The sea lions don’t have the same protection as the harbor seals at the Children’s Pool [which is closed during the harbor seal pupping season],” docent Elena Tillman previously told the Light. “I’ve seen people hop the wall and go down the stairs leading down to see the sea lions. I’ve seen people getting in their faces, fly drones in their faces, stand over the pregnant females, take selfies with them, etc. This seems innocuous, but the sea lions have a really low threshold for abandoning their pups. If someone gets close to them or the pup, if the pup smells like a human, they will abandon them. I have also seen emaciated pups and I have seen some die.”
Though the Sierra Club groups refer to the area as a rookery, LaCava said Point La Jolla has not been officially recognized as such. He added that he is “supportive of the ongoing discussions to engage [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in this conversation.”
Dan Simonelli, president of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club, which has used The Cove for informal dips in the ocean and annual events since its incorporation in 1993, said he questioned some of the Sierra Club’s claims and is concerned about decisions being made based on them.
“I agree with the idea of responsible tourism. I see it often where people congregate and get close to take pictures or just look, and the sea lions get agitated,” Simonelli said. “But usually the sea lions have more discretion and more restraint than the people and can leave. If they were that bothered, they would just get into the water.” ◆
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