April 26, 2006

California seal pups beat kids in battle over beach

By Sarah Tippit

LA JOLLA, California (Reuters) - If the stench and bacteria
from feces and birth byproducts at a San Diego seal pupping
beach has not kept the people away, then officials hope a rope
just might.

A school of about 200 harbor seals has emerged victorious
in the battle between those who want to protect one of
California's top seal-spotting places and those who cherish the
"Children's Pool," a cove built 70 years ago to give tots a
safe place to swim.

The decade-long feud took a new turn this week after San
Diego officials roped off a prime stretch of the La Jolla
shoreline to keep people from disturbing the harbor seals who
have taken up residence there.

Any move, even a walk across the sand or a seagull in
flight, can spook the skittish animals to flee into the ocean
and abandon their newborn babies on the shore, thus violating
federal marine mammal protection laws.

Moreover, seals need adequate sun and sand time in order to
maintain good health, said Joe Cordaro, wildlife biologist with
the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

Cordaro's office urged the city to act after receiving an
increase in complaints that angry residents were harassing the
marine mammals during their breeding process.

The council voted last week 7-1 to erect the barrier each
year from January 1 through May 1, which is considered to be
the end of pupping season.

Federal officials have also installed 24-hour surveillance
cameras in the cove to watch for people deliberately swimming,
kayaking or sunbathing in the area.


Yet many residents who showed up this week in defiance of
the rope said they were undeterred.

"My family has been here since 1915, my children were
raised here and we want to be able to swim, it's the only place
around with a lifeguard station and bathrooms," said Don Perry
who says he visits the beach every day as an act of protest.
"These animals are not the delicate creatures they are made out
to be."

Meanwhile, a steady stream of tourists and environmental
activists clusters above and around the roped area, unfazed by
the stench, ogling the seals, calling out to the babies and
taking pictures.

"Aren't they cute?" said Andrea Hahn, a member of "Rake the
Line," a group of volunteers who come to the Pacific beach to
educate the public and monitor those who would defy the

"There are plenty of other beaches where they can go," she
said. "I wish they would leave the seals alone!"

The cove has been a popular La Jolla spot since it was
financed in the early 1930s by newspaper heiress Ellen Browning

Nobody knows how or why the animals began flocking to the
shore in the late 1990s but currently about 200 seals live
there. It's one of the few spots in the state where seals are
visible to the public, Cordaro said.

Yet they bring with them dangerous and malodorous bacteria.
The rope barrier is also meant as a warning to stay away from
seal fecal matter and birth byproducts, officials said.

Last October a California Superior Court judge ordered the
city to dredge and clean up the beach but the decision has been
tied up in litigation and a foul fishy stench remains.

San Diego Council president Scott Peters was alone on the
council to vote against putting up the rope barrier, saying he
did not feel there was evidence of seal harassment to justify
blocking access to the beach for four months.

"The issue isn't so much that people can't get along with
seals, it's that people can't get along with people," Peters