Not Just Being Scent O’Mental: Leave La Jolla’s Sea Lions Alone

By Sharada Saraf | SQ Online Reporter | SQ Online (2016-2017)


For years, La Jolla Cove’s striking sea life and beautiful scenery has drawn thousands of visitors from across the world to California. However, some animals that make the cove their home have been increasingly seen as unwelcome and inconvenient by the residents of La Jolla.

Perhaps more famous locally for their stench rather than their essential part of our unique coastal ecosystem, the sea lions of La Jolla have been subject to harsh criticism over the past few years. Despite La Jolla Cove being their natural breeding location, the sea lions’ increasing numbers have sparked growing complaints among La Jolla residents about the poor water quality and clashes between beachgoers and the animals. Claiming that the sea lions pose a major health and public safety problem, the La Jolla Town Council and Task Force on California Sea Lions has issued a “Call To Action” with members pushing for the city to give them the authority to draft and execute a removal plan.

A recent report by CW6 News highlights hostile interactions between beachgoers and sea lions.

While the plan does not concentrate on any particular method of removing the sea lions, the document relies heavily on a June 2016 investigation conducted by marine mammalian expert Dr. Doyle Hannan, who was contracted by the city to analyze the issue. The potential deterrent options recommended by Dr. Hannan include non-lethal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-approved methods, installing gates and fences, and using low-voltage fencing to corral the sea lions into certain areas. The Town Council, however, claiming that the cove is a “dirty CSL [California Sea Lion] litter box”, wants to take it a step further by installing plastic barriers to prevent the animals from reaching the beach at all.

While there has been a strong push against the sea lions’ presence in the Cove, there has been an equally strong push to abandon any deterrence methods and keep the animals in their natural habitat. Over 95,000 people have signed a petition, written by a UC San Diego student, urging San Diego mayor Kevin Falcouner to deny the Task Force’s request, protect the sea lions’ habitat, and urge visitors to visit the nearby La Jolla Shores beach instead.

Proponents claim that in the event of hostile interactions between humans and animals, the natural inhabitants of the region shouldn’t be the ones to relocate and that humans should instead. In response to La Jolla residents’ concerns about water quality, the drafter of the petition has insisted that “due to the sea lions habitat being at the La Jolla Cove, naturally their feces would be present in the water, causing natural, but occasional, issues with water quality.” To resolve this, the drafter proposes redirecting tourists to other beaches along the coast and preventing beachgoers from accessing the water.

Sea lions sleeping on the rocks in La Jolla Cove. (Source)

While the concerns of La Jolla residents are valid and understandable, the correct solution would be to accept the sea lions’ presence and important role in the coastal ecosystem rather than harassing them and eventually forcing them off the Cove. La Jolla residents have miles of coast and sea lion-free beaches at their disposal; therefore, moving to strip sea lions of the small area they call home isn’t the right decision.

This solution may make La Jolla business owners unhappy, but what they, along with the Town Council, aren’t considering is the huge potential market for ecotourism. Regardless of the smell, many people are still drawn to La Jolla because of the ability to observe the sea lions in their natural habitat. This presents a major opportunity for La Jolla businesses; by embracing their presence instead of implementing expensive deterrents, La Jolla’s economic future is secure so long as eco-tourism remains popular, which it likely will.

Public education and increased signage, additionally recommended by Dr. Hannan, prevents any hostile interactions between humans and the mammals and allows ecotourists to respectfully and safely observe the sea lions while enjoying the beauty of the Cove. While Mayor Falcouner hasn’t acted on the issue yet, proponents hope that he not only denies the request of the Task Force but also enacts a measure to permanently protect La Jolla Cove’s sea lions for future generations to enjoy.

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