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Judge orders return of seal barrier

The rope barrier separating humans from harbor seals during their pupping season at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool is up again for at least one more year.

Last week, U.S. Disrict Judge William Q. Hayes approved a request by a seal protection group to reinstall the rope barrier at the popular La Jolla Beach, created in the 1930s by Ellen Browning Scripps as a safe wading area for children.

The pool has become a de facto seal rookery since it was temporarily closed to human contact in 1997 due to high bacteria counts from the buildup of seal waste.

Stacey LoMedico, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said she would immediately comply with the court’s order.

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“It’s a slim rope we’ve used previously that goes through a hoop on some stakes with some signs in place from previous years,” LoMedico said. “There will be no costs associated with installing the rope. It will be done with existing staff.”

Reaction to Judge Hayes’ decision was as mixed as sentiment over the seal issue.

Longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather, who has championed keeping the pool open for ocean users, warned that the seals’ continued presence there may ultimately invite disaster.

“It’s our constitutional right in California to enter the ocean,” she said. “It’s absurd we’re allowing seals to reside next to one of the largest swimming beaches in California. It’s shark bait. Predators will find the seals.

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“Somebody’s going to lose their life over it. That’s wrong,” Merryweather said.

Bryan Pease, attorney for La Jolla Friends of the Seals, hailed the judge’s decision.

“The rope is very important for protecting pregnant seals and their newborn pups in critical, post-birth bonding,” he said. “It’s an important guideline for the viewing public. Though it’s not illegal to cross the rope, many people don’t know it’s illegal to disturb the seals. They walk right up to them.”

LoMedico said the rope at Children’s Pool will remain in place until May 15.

In October, Superior Court Judge Yuri Hoffman ordered the city to return the Children’s Pool to its “pre-seal’’ condition. Hoffman ordered the city to continue efforts to obtain permits for removing sand buildup and cleaning up the water.

But in late October, Hayes issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits the city from doing anything to remove the seals.

A March hearing is scheduled on that issue.