La Jolla Parks & Beaches group to consider proposing changes to Marine Mammal Protection Act

Sea lions haul out on Point La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

With San Diego weighing closing Point La Jolla to the public year-round, some think the 1972 federal law needs updates to account for negative impacts from a large sea lion presence.


In light of ongoing issues with pinnipeds in the area, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board is considering forming a working group to propose updates to the more than 50-year-old Marine Mammal Protection Act to reflect today’s needs.

The idea was broached during the non-agenda public comment period of the board’s July 24 meeting. Items raised during that time are not acted on at the meeting.

The discussion started with an update on the July 20 decision by the San Diego City Council’s Environment Committee to forward a proposal to close Point La Jolla year-round to the full City Council for a hearing in coming weeks. The planned amendment to the San Diego municipal code would extend the annual six-month closure, currently May 1 through Oct. 31 during sea lion pupping season, to all year.

“I was dismayed and frustrated by the decision,” said LJP&B President Bob Evans. “I feel like the committee is turning their backs on Scripps Park … and negative impacts [from sea lion presence], such as the pollution there that is a problem and concern.”

Evans and several LJP&B trustees said some government decisions in recent years — such as the closure of La Jolla’s Children’s Pool beach during harbor seal pupping season and lifeguards being instructed to tell people to stay away from sea lions at La Jolla Cove — have leaned in favor of the pinnipeds, given their federal protection under MMPA.

That law, passed by Congress in 1972, prohibits hunting, killing, capturing and/or harassing any marine mammal. Months of reports of beach-goers bothering, and in some cases harming, sea lions and their pups played a key role in San Diego’s decision (with support and further input from the California Coastal Commission) to close Point La Jolla to the public, first on a five-week emergency basis in 2021 and then for the annual six-month closure that started last year.

MMPA defines harassment as “any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance which has the potential to either injure a marine mammal in the wild or disturb a marine mammal by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering.”

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meets July 24 at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meets July 24 at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“A huge problem here is that these animals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has not been updated since 1972,” said Ashleigh Palinkas, who is a marine technician and scientific coordinator at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla but was not attending the meeting in that capacity. “We have had a lot of ecological shifts since then.

“I would propose adding [to MMPA] updated scientific research and incorporating the sociological impacts of protecting these animals. You have to weigh all the costs and benefits. ... We might be contributing to an ecological imbalance by overprotecting animals.”

Palinkas, who also is a staff research associate for California Sea Grant — part of a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and 34 university-based coastal science programs — added that she is in favor of adequate protections and “whatever is healthiest for the ecosystem” and that any changes would have to start “at the grassroots level.”

Palinkas said she would participate in a working group if one is assembled.

“You have to weigh all the costs and benefits. ... We might be contributing to an ecological imbalance by overprotecting animals.”

— Ashleigh Palinkas

Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in response to “increasing concerns among scientists and the public that significant declines in some species of marine mammals were caused by human activities,” according to NOAA.

The law established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they could be significant functioning elements of their ecosystems, NOAA says.

NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Marine Mammal Commission share responsibility for implementing MMPA.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches will revisit the issue and possibly assemble the working group in coming months.

Other LJP&B news

Priorities list: The board voted to endorse a list created by the leaders of four local planning groups for capital improvement projects they would like the city of San Diego to execute, making LJP&B the first applicable group to do so.

Also like last year, resurfacing the La Jolla Shores boardwalk is a close second among requests the groups intend to submit to the city of San Diego.

July 22, 2023

In the past, the community groups would submit separate lists and the city would pick one or two projects based on priorities and funding availability. Looking to present a united front, representatives of LJP&B, the La Jolla Community Planning Association, La Jolla Shores Association and Bird Rock Community Council got together to produce a list of requests. The groups will vote on this year’s list at their respective monthly meetings before submitting it to the city.

Widening and rebuilding the sidewalk in Scripps Park next to Coast Boulevard is the No. 1 item on the list. “It’s a huge capital request and a big project, but it is of huge importance to the whole community,” Evans said.

A close second on the list is resurfacing the La Jolla Shores boardwalk and replacing crumbling walls.

Whale View Point working group: After years of dormancy, the Whale View Point working group is being revived to put in post-and-chain barriers on the south side of Whale View Point, a short stretch of shoreline parks along Coast Boulevard South where there currently are sea lavender and saltbush.

The current rope-and-stakes barriers “have been there for quite some time and the intent was for them to be temporary,” said working group leader Ann Dynes. “So while we benefited from their longevity … which has helped a lot, I am going to try to initiate something new.”

Dynes said she is getting cost estimates, renderings and a project charter with an outline of the scope of work for the group to review and approve.

Past Whale View Point projects have put native vegetation and new benches in the area.

Next meetings: The LJP&B board typically does not meet in August, but given ongoing projects and issues the board is working on, it decided to continue to assemble. Thus, the next meeting will be at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28, at the La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave. The following month, the board will meet at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, at the library — a week earlier than usual in light of the Yom Kippur holiday. Learn more at ◆