‘Seal Cam’ operators honor San Diego Mayor Bob Filner in La Jolla


San Diego Mayor Bob Filner vows to ‘go further to protect’ harbor seals at Children’s Pool

By Ashley Mackin

Hundreds gathered at the Mangelsen Gallery in La Jolla on April 25 to help the Western Alliance for Nature (WAN) Conservancy — the organization that paid for the webcam installed at Children’s Pool beach — raise funds for the camera operation and salute Mayor Bob Filner for his efforts to protect the harbor seals.

Sara Wan of the WAN Conservancy opened the benefit by thanking people involved in maintaining the camera, and then introduced former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, who presented an award to the mayor. In Filner’s acceptance speech, he explained his process for getting Children’s Pool to the “protected” level it is today. He also addressed seal harassment since the city closed the beach at night.

Filner’s efforts thus far include having a police officer and a ranger stationed at Children’s Pool, extending the rope barrier designed to keep people away from the seals to 152 feet, closing the beach from sunset to sunrise, and suggesting the City of San Diego take over operation of the camera.

Sara Wan explained that the camera operators work in four-hour shifts to count seals and humans on the beach and record observations for the conservancy.

From there, she explained what she calls “the myths of pro-beach access” (See information below).

Slater-Price credited Mayor Filner with assuming a leadership role in the seal issue. “He’s taken very proactive steps in a way many of us thought no one would do because it is controversial,” she said. “I don’t know why, but it is. In spite of all the critical issues facing the city, and heaven knows when he took over there were plenty of critical issues left unsolved, he’s been willing to devote time to this because he believes in representing the people of this area and he also recognizes how important this issue is, not only to the environment, but to the economy. The seals here are a huge draw.”

She then presented Mayor Filner with his award, a photo taken by the Seal Cam from behind the rope, with a note of thanks.

Addressing concerns about the camera and limited beach access, Filner said, “This should be a no-brainer, right? I just don’t understand the controversy, frankly. All these people talk about tourism and all these people talk about our beauty and (being) America’s Finest City.”

Of the beach closure, Filner said it stemmed from the video recorded of two women aggressively disturbing the seals at Children’s Pool on Feb. 14, joking that people are “training their kids” to harass seals.

After watching the now- famous video, Filner said he asked the San Diego Police Department what they need to do to prevent similar harrassment.

They reportedly replied, “If (people) were denied access to the beach it doesn’t matter what they were doing, we could cite them for being on the beach.”

As a result, the beach has been closed at night to May 15, and Filner said he doesn’t plan on stopping there. “We’re going to go further to protect them,” he said. To the Wans he stated, “We’re going to try to help you with the camera and maybe have the city take it over.”

Speaking with La Jolla Light, Filner said continuing the level of seal protection is necessary because the current measures are not enough, and reports are still coming in of people harassing seals.

However, the mayor and the Wans define harassment as anything that alters the behavior of the seals, so new reports might not be as extreme as the February incident.

“The rangers and the lifeguards still don’t think they have the authority (to enforce the new rules) so I have to make sure they understand they have the authority to cite people and to exercise that authority,” Filner said.

Sara Wan debunks ‘three myths of those who oppose the seal cam and limited beach access’

■ Myth 1: Ellen Browning Scripps donated the beach via a trust as a Children’s Pool.

Sara Wan: “That’s nonsense. This is and always has been public tidelands. No person can donate and leave in trust, public land.”

■ Myth 2: SeaWorld released the seals to Children’s Pool after SeaWorld rehabilitated them.

Wan: “It wouldn’t matter if they did. The seals are here and we’re lucky. (However) I looked at the charts they’ve posted and all they provide is the release data, so I asked NOAA for the full data, including where the seals were picked up. Most of them were not released to this area, but there was already a colony here and they were rescuing them from here.”

■ Myth 3: People have a constitutional right to access the beach.

Wan: “Public access is controlled under the California Coastal Act, which addresses the need to protect the fragile eco-system. It is consistent with the CCA to deal with limiting and restraining public access in order to protect those seals.”