San Diego, Seal Research Capital: Fact Check

San Diego, Seal Research Capital: Fact Check

File photo by Rob Davis

The Children's Pool in La Jolla.

Image: Huckster PropagandaStatement: “We’ve become an internationally known center for seal research now because of (seal cam),” Mayor Bob Filner said at a May 22 City Council budget hearing.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

Analysis: Mayor Bob Filner has been an advocate for La Jolla’s harbor seals since his early days in office.

He called a press conference in January to unveil the seal cam, a 24-hour live-streaming video of the neighborhood’s seals, and later temporarily closed the La Jolla Children’s Pool during seal pupping season.

Filner cemented his commitment to the seals by including money for the cameras in his latest budget proposal. He suggests the city spend $50,000 to operate the camera system next year because the nonprofit Western Alliance for Nature, the group that put up the cam, can’t afford to keep it rolling.

Councilman Scott Sherman questioned that monetary commitment at a Wednesday budget hearing. In response, Filner hailed the camera’s benefits.

Among those the mayor cited was seal cam’s contribution to research efforts and how it’s apparently helped put San Diego on the map.

“We’ve become an internationally known center for seal research now because of this,” he said.

This would be surprising because the seal cam has only been up for about five months. We decided to check with local experts to see whether the seal footage has truly upped San Diego’s game when it comes to research.

Officials with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institution, San Diego State University, University of California, San Diego and others told us they haven’t used the camera to conduct research.

Only the Western Alliance for Nature, the group that runs the camera system, could share any details about a formal study. The nonprofit, often called the WAN Conservancy, aims to protect struggling habitats and maintain biodiversity. It previously lobbied to preserve a beach that is home to several endangered species.

Sara Wan, the group’s co-founder, said volunteers or paid workers operate the camera around the clock and record key facts every hour. Those include the number of seals on the beach and in the water, and the number of people on the beach or along the sea wall.

Wan, a former California Coastal Commission chairwoman, is leading the effort. She wants to publish a paper on the seals’ behavior and reactions to humans.

Thus far, Wan said, her group has shared its data with the Coastal Commission and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

This research doesn’t appear to have gotten much traction among international or even local groups that analyze seal behavior.

In fact, the human behavior caught on camera has drawn much more attention.

CNN, Huffington Post and CBS News were among the media outlets that reported on footage that captured two women harassing the seals at night.

That might make San Diego the center of some national ribbing for human-on-seal violence, but not for seal research, though Wan said the camera draws an average of more than 1,000 visitors a day from countries as far away as China and Ireland.

That’s not to say San Diego doesn’t have potential to become a hub for researchers interested in harbor seals, the species that lives at the Children’s Pool.

Jim Moore, a retired biological anthropologist, once worked with a graduate student to document La Jolla’s seal population, one he said hadn’t been studied much.

The student concluded that while previous seal management plans for the Children’s Pool largely assumed there were no more than 250 animals, nearly 600 called the area home at least temporarily during much of 2008.

For years, other researchers have largely focused on other seal populations rather than wade into the long-running controversy at the Children’s Pool, Moore said.

If fully utilized, Moore said the Children’s Pool and thus San Diego could be a standout spot for scientists to study harbor seals given the large population in an area that’s easily accessible to humans.

He couldn’t speak to how the seal cam might affect San Diego’s status as a research hub.

“There is certainly room there to be a unique, one-of-a-kind seal research center,” Moore said. “The location of the seals themselves is incredible.”

But the seal cam, and its potential, hasn’t yet made San Diego an “internationally known center for seal research,” as the mayor claimed.

And his office didn’t respond to requests for further details that might back up the mayor’s statement.

We dub a claim huckster propaganda when it’s not only inaccurate but it’s reasonable to expect the person making it knew that and made the claim anyway to gain an advantage.

This ruling applies here because the seal cam has generated some national attention — but that was focused on footage of cruel behavior that went viral, not on pioneering seal research. Filner should know this.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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12 comments
mermaid
mermaid

#1. The Children's Pool is a manmade Ocean swimming pool built for Children and for the Disabled. The ramp that is there was one of the first if not the very first ramps to the high water mark for the disabled, open to them for over 65 years. #2. Judge Pate determined that it is not healthy for mammals of any species to lay in their own waste and fecal, and after birth and ruled that the sand should be dredged out and the sluiceways opened. The stench is as bad as the bird poop issue if not worse. #3. The Children's Pool is the ONLY safe Entry for the disabled to swim in the real ocean. Other beaches such as La Jolla Shores is only good until you get to the water's edge. It is too difficult for a person with out the use of their legs to fall off their wheelchair and pull with only their arms out through the shallows and the surf and surge and boogie boards, and kayaks, and surfers. Its just not being done, much too hard and dangerous. The Children's Pool being a calm pool is perfect. We have amputees coming home from foreign wars every day, they too deserve to swim in the real ocean. And there Is NO OTHER ocean pool. #3. The Seals do not need further study, except that they are over populated and have eaten all the mussel population. Mussels are an indicator species. All tide pool creatures eat them. The seals are devastating the Garibaldi population as well. The Children's pool is the only safe harbor for distance swimmers.. Last time the pool was closed about ten years ago for the seal politics, a man drowned for fear of getting cited at C.P. and tried coming in at the adjoining Shell Beach, the worse rip tide in S. CA. The lifeguard was unable to save him. If the Children's Pool is closed during pupping season , more people are in serious jeopardy of drowning. It is the only safe harbor on the La Jolla Coastline. Seal Profits are the real reason for this nonsense and the human greed to see a cute seal. Sharks have been hunted so much that the great white is now on the no- hunt endangered list. 80-100 million of them killed each year for at least the last decade. Sharks eat seals, This is another reason for the serious over population of pinnepeds. The sea lions are starving to death. The cameras are not watching seals so much as women undressing and honing in on little kids and license plates. There are no signes telling us we are being watched. I was followed by the camera into the shower! Its creepy and a terrible abuse of our privacy. We do have a certain degree of anonymity in public, but not at Children's Pool. One woman, her name is Jane, puts her camera directly in the faces of people visiting there to intimidate people to leave and not swim. This is first and foremost a pool for Children and the Disabled. It is not healthy for seals or people. The sand must be dredged out and the sluiceways opened. This is about the incredible amount of Seal Profits being pocketed by the Wans, and The Friends of Seals, not about seals. Its about money, and it helped to elect Filner, and now he is paying back by closing the pool. People DO NOT come to S.D to see Seals, it is just a stopping off point for a few minutes. Many hold their noses from the stench. If the pool was restored instead of being allowed to crumble, and ADA Access is RESTORED to the disabled to the WATER, not just to an ADA shower no one can use. When access is restored, then Disabled swimmers including our VETS will make Children's Pool an actual destination to be able to swim in the only ocean pool in the Cont. U.S. Much more tourist dollars, and a lot better for everyone including the seals. It is a selfish desire of humans to look at seals in an environment that is NOT healthy for them. Seals do not need the protection of the breakwater wall. Seals can swim through the surf and can swim in riptides. Seals have all their body parts. The Disabled do not . A crippled child's opportunity to swim in the real ocean in safety trumps a seal swimming in a concrete ocean pool polluting it. Please support the disabled and our wounded warriors who deserve to swim in the ocean. The seals can go to hundreds of beaches. People can still see them on the otherside of the wall, and at Shell Beach, Seal Rock, S. Casa, Wind and Sea, and more. Please support the restoration of ADA access at the Children's Pool.

Robert Castaneda
Robert Castaneda

I understand that the City of San Diego is embarking on a contract to clean up seal poop; will there be an RFP? I can't think of a better solicitation for "Managed Competition" in an effort to cut out city employees.Come to think of it, exactly how would you qualify a firm for doing such work? Will there be a "smell" test" given this expenditure of public dollars?

Robert Castaneda
Robert Castaneda subscriber

I understand that the City of San Diego is embarking on a contract to clean up seal poop; will there be an RFP? I can't think of a better solicitation for "Managed Competition" in an effort to cut out city employees.Come to think of it, exactly how would you qualify a firm for doing such work? Will there be a "smell" test" given this expenditure of public dollars?

John Loughlin
John Loughlin

1,000 web visitors a day. Coverage (of whatever kind) on CNN, Huffington Post and CBS News. The WAN Conservancy sharing research data with the Coastal Commission and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and to top it all, a Fact Check article on the Voice of San Diego! It's clear that Mayor Bob Filner, by talking about the web cam (and all that it captures), has promoted San Diego as a great place for seal research (and improved the behavior of some residents, at the same time).

John Loughlin
John Loughlin subscriber

1,000 web visitors a day. Coverage (of whatever kind) on CNN, Huffington Post and CBS News. The WAN Conservancy sharing research data with the Coastal Commission and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and to top it all, a Fact Check article on the Voice of San Diego! It's clear that Mayor Bob Filner, by talking about the web cam (and all that it captures), has promoted San Diego as a great place for seal research (and improved the behavior of some residents, at the same time).

fstued
fstued

It is great there are lots of tourists for LaJolla visiting the seals in the pool that was built for children. But may they should consider putting a seal web cam up at the seal cave that is on Pt Loma. It is a cave that is not accessible by land is very visible from the bluff top the seal pup there and generally hang out. There is a bluff at the end of Pt Loma that looks directly down at the cave it is just north of of Cabrillo Monument and only accessible by a few city workers. This would be a great asset to the National Monument and the rest SD if it could be open to the public. There is great access with parking and great views of the cave 80 feet below If the monument could negotiate with the city to gain access to this facility it would be a great addition to our city. There is a city facility there that would have to be secured but that would be easy. Something to think about that might help clear

bob dorn
bob dorn

I'd like to comment, but I've run out of reasoning and my analysis is in the shop. Can you give me a couple of pounds of both?

bob dorn
bob dorn subscriber

I'd like to comment, but I've run out of reasoning and my analysis is in the shop. Can you give me a couple of pounds of both?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

I agree the video certainly looks staged. There is a pretty good profile of at least one of the girls, yet no effort to track them down even though someone can recognize them I'm sure, just a convenient excuse to close the beach at night? I like the seals there personally, but I don't like a reichstag bonfire on seal (or childrens) beach.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

I agree the video certainly looks staged. There is a pretty good profile of at least one of the girls, yet no effort to track them down even though someone can recognize them I'm sure, just a convenient excuse to close the beach at night? I like the seals there personally, but I don't like a reichstag bonfire on seal (or childrens) beach.

nothemeparkinlajolla
nothemeparkinlajolla

The beatings were staged. The woman who took the video is conveniently nowhere to be found and cannot be contacted, so the video appeared out of nowhere. It is obvious that it is staged and the girls were put up to it. And Filner himself slipped up when he during his photo op. He said that he and the Wan's were standing down at CP and they hatched the idea to have a camera there. It was just a matter of creating a false situation for bully Filner then to force his will of having a camera at CP. And we all know how good Filner is at forcing his will. Now he wants to taxpayers to pay for it? Just say no San Diegans.

mermaid
mermaid

Wrong. Its amazing how wrong this all is. Where are you getting your information? Do you snorkel at the Children's Pool? Do it now. You will see the devastation of the Seal's home. The Ocean. If you love a seal you must love its home. The ocean is unbalanced with a serious over population of seals, and are devastating the underwater ecology. Gone are the mussels, the Garibaldi are in serious decline. John Loughlin? What do YOU have against our wounded warriors coming home without legs? Do you put a seal ahead of him? That is not American do to sir. It is selfish and terrible. This Pool was especially designed and built for " Those handicapped in Life's Game" and accepted by the City with a Promise in writing to maintain it as a Children's Bathing Pool Specifically and Not a marine mammal park, as fecal bacteria just is not good for a pool. SWimming Pool it is first and foremost. So you should look in the mirror and ask yourself which is more important : Our wounded warriors and crippled children who have no other safe ocean entry or a seal who can swim anywhere and has all its body parts? You should be ashamed of yourself to not care about children learning to love the ocean by swimming in safely and its really sad that you care nothing for our returning maimed VETS. Unless you are too getting a cut in the Seal Profits like the Mayor, the lifeguard and the police who are unlawfully detaining visitors every day . And Staged an abuse video. Even with the plain eye you can see that the seals are not touched, do not flush as they sure would if kicked. And if its such a federal offence then why did no one try to find those two girls dressed in uniform for their show? Their attorney is using the courts to intimidate people and the police are ordered to do the same. The Children's Pool, is for Children and the Disabled . I love seals and the ocean. The ocean is about balance people and its not in balance with too many seals. And the videos are an total abuse of privacy and not needed. It is an example of the dangers of video abuse, watching women undress and go in the shower? That is not reseach sir.