The Children’s Pool in La Jolla has been a popular spot for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving since it was built in the 1930’s. Harbor seals moved to the pool from nearby Seal Rock in the late 90’s. People coexisted peacefully with the seals for several years. This harmony came to an end when animal rights activists made the seals at Children’s Pool a showcase for their cause.
In the intervening years, confrontations between Children’s Pool users and the activists escalated to the point of physical altercations. The majority of human-to-human conflicts have been initiated by the seal activists. NOAA has one definition of seal harassment; the activists want them to use a stricter standard. Now, the City of San Diego is seeking to resolve the conflict in favor of the animal rights activists with an ordinance that prohibits any activity that might potentially disturb a seal anywhere in San Diego. This prohibition is complete, and includes beach goers, swimmers, fishermen, surfers, and divers.
This bill is bad in so many ways. Many of the stated rationale are demonstrably false. While it cites numerous complaints to NOAA, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) enforcement officer has issued no citations in the last four years. Children’s Pool is under 24-hour-a-day video surveillance. If the complaints had been valid, NOAA would have acted on them. The NOAA enforcement officer publicly stated that divers going out at Children’s Pool have been staying away from the seals and are not part of any harassment problem.
The ordinance grants enforcement powers to the animal rights activists by making it a crime to cross any barrier erected to enforce the ordinance. It doesn’t make a distinction between the city’s barriers and others erected by private citizens. We decry vigilantism in any other area, why does the city want to sponsor it for the seals?
The ordinance makes no exception for life threatening situations. Indeed, a lifeguard could be cited for making a rescue out of Children’s Pool. The same would hold true for a distressed diver, boater, or surfer.
In a lawsuit contesting the purpose of Children’s Pool, the court decisively ruled that the city is obligated to maintain Children’s Pool for human use. It ordered the city to dredge the pool, and open the old sluiceways to make the water safe for human contact. The city has appealed the judge’s order. In their appeal, the city attorney stated that the lawsuit was unnecessary because the city already followed a shared use policy. Yet the city is enacting an ordinance effectively barring people from Children’s Pool if any seals are present.
If this law passes, divers and snorkelers stand to lose access to one of the best sites in Southern California. The same law will also block access to La Jolla Cove whenever a seal decides to haul out there. While there needs to be a balance between people and wildlife, a special interest law written in the back room isn’t the way to do it.