Why the ‘Seal Guy’ Wants to Boot La Jolla’s Sea Lions

Why the ‘Seal Guy’ Wants to Boot La Jolla’s Sea Lions

File photo by Sam Hodgson

A seal at the La Jolla Children's Pool.

Bryan Pease considers himself a passionate animal-rights defender and a champion of the underdog.

Yet the attorney who’s spent years fighting to protect seals at the La Jolla Children’s Pool wants to boot sea lions from the bluffs at nearby La Jolla Cove, and his latest clients are well-to-do La Jolla business owners.

But Pease, one of two lawyers who sued the city last week in hopes of persuading officials to stamp out the persistent, acrid stench at La Jolla Cove presumably spurred by sea lion and bird droppings, said he hasn’t switched sides.

He says the nearby La Valencia Hotel and George’s at the Cove restaurant, plus hundreds of residents and cove visitors, are victims of the lingering stench.

“They’re powerless to do anything,” Pease said. “They’re being enveloped by this noxious odor and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

He also can’t stand the smell himself.

So he and attorney Norm Blumenthal argue a fence surrounding La Jolla Cove and a contingent of sea lions needs to go.

“If people are allowed on the bluffs, the animals will stop using it as an area to defecate, and as a result the smell will, over time, go away, patrons will return and this sad chapter of the La Jolla Cove smelling like a sewer will mercifully end,” the attorneys wrote in their suit.

But Pease is one of the city’s most outspoken seal advocates, so much so that he’s even been occasionally recognized by strangers and dubbed “the seal guy.” So why does he want to destroy a fence that insulates them from human interaction?

His response: Well, because the creatures at La Jolla Cove aren’t seals. They’re sea lions.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

Note the spots - this is a seal.

The harbor seals that hang out at the Children’s Pool beach have short, webbed flippers that make it difficult for them to traverse rocky areas like the La Jolla Cove. Instead, local seals return to the same sandy beach year after year and their droppings easily wash away with the tide. They mate and give birth in the area between December and May.

Particularly during this five-month period, they’re easily disturbed and may abandon an area, or even their offspring, after a frightening encounter with a human.

Image via Shutterstock

Image via Shutterstock

The sea lions at the nearby La Jolla Cove may look similar to seals but they have larger flippers that allow them to waddle over the bluffs. This means their feces go there too.

Sea lions aren’t as intimidated by humans, or as tied to specific areas.

“The sea lions have a lot more options as to where they can go and the males are going to be aggressive if someone tries to encroach on them,” Pease said.

Sea lions have been known to bite humans if they feel threatened, or to simply go elsewhere if they don’t want to be bothered.

If people act appropriately, Pease argues the sea lions will simply relocate, likely even to the bottom areas of the cove where sea water can wash away their droppings.

That seemed to be happening last week after city workers installed a gate to allow visitors to walk atop the cove. (A spokesman for interim mayor Todd Gloria said the new addition was planned before Pease and Blumenthal filed suit.)

In the lawsuit, Pease and Blumenthal contend the fence should come down altogether. They say nearby businesses and residents didn’t have any say when the wooden barrier went up years ago and it’s since allowed sea lions to turn the bluffs into a literal wasteland rather than a pupping zone.

Not everyone is pleased Pease has taken the case, or that he’s pushing for greater human access to the cove.

“This is what San Diego’s compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act looks like,” one woman wrote in a Thursday email to Pease, sharing a photo of cove visitors walking along the bluffs. “These are innocent sea lions and birds now fighting for their lives.”

Pease replied, explaining that the sea lions aren’t in danger. They’re just moving, and they should, in his view.

“Hopefully that area will stop looking and smelling like a sewer with puddles of excrement everywhere because the birds and sea lions are coming up too high and using it as a toilet,” he wrote back.

Pease expects more email exchanges like this. Even seal advocates confuse the two marine mammal species and their needs, he said.

The city, too, has faced pushback. It’s received multiple complaints and an unidentified person put a lock on the gate to the cove on Thursday morning.

Officials have cautioned cove visitors to be respectful of the wildlife, and posted signage saying the same. Federal law bars harassment of sea lions and a city spokesman said the city won’t tolerate violators.

Meanwhile, the president of the usually outspoken La Jolla Friends of the Seals said her group has opted not to take a position on the cove stench or Pease’s lawsuit.

No local or national groups have publicly come out against the city’s recent action or the lawsuit.

Pease hopes his involvement in the lawsuit will help at least some San Diegans recognize the difference between seals and sea lions.

“I do not want the harbor seals we’ve worked to protect for so long being blamed for this odor they are not causing,” Pease said.

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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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18 comments
nativesdn
nativesdn

Lived here all my life. Enjoyed La Jolla since I was a Kid, 62 now. Very disappointed. Don't enjoy going to La Jolla now. Seals have ruined it. Seals are cool but need to go elsewhere. Plenty of coastal area available to them. Stinks. Water polluted. taking over cove. No more the Jewel of San Diego. Swimming is more dangerous. Smells like the sea lion cave up north, What did you expect? They need to go. Drive them out with high frequency.

Sara Ohara
Sara Ohara subscriber

FINALLY voices of reason!

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Lawyers gotta eat, so they drum up business on any side of any issue to get clients. Nothing new about that. Pease’s distinctions between seals and sea lions may be anatomically correct, but what makes him think the sea lions won’t join the seals at the children’s pool if they are discouraged by human traffic on the rocks, now that they’ve become accustomed to the area? And, if they are as aggressive toward humans as he suggests, what makes him think they won’t protect their new turf if the fence cutting off the rocks from human traffic is removed?

This whole episode is an exercise in San Diego folly, with rich people with too little to do becoming do-gooders for a population that has steadily grown since the 70s when both species began being protected from hunting. The growth, by at least one estimate I’ve seen, approaches 3% a year and has become a major problem for both sport and commercial fishermen. Sea lions cruise river mouths waiting for salmon to return to spawn, and steal fish hooked by sport anglers in coastal waters because it’s easier than catching their own dinner. Not only are they an increasing nuisance but they have taken over numerous dock areas up and down the west coast.

Isn’t it time to boot both species off heavily occupied coastal areas and let them nest in unpopulated areas? I like the proposal by one person to use fire boats from San Diego bay to periodically hose off the rocks to get rid of the stench, but the protective laws this would surely violate make that a probable non-starter. Still, you have to admit all this nonsense is sure good for the lawyers and environmental activists.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Has NSA properly vetted these marine mammals? How do we know they are not terrorist seals and sea lions, here to test our coastal defenses for an even more noxious chemical attack to come?
Clearly this should be handed over to federal authorities, and all correspondence to date seized and redacted.

gene carman
gene carman subscriber

I look at this mess and only one thing comes to mind... From Shakespeare... “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers...”
(yes, I know there is deeper meaning to the above line, but for just a moment, let me enjoy the thought)

The actual fact is that this is all an issue of unintended consequences, due to man meddling with nature. The irony of having the same lawyer now come back and try to tell us that some form of pinniped is OK, while others are not, is just beyond words. Do we have to set up some sort of night club bouncer situation to admit "only the proper mammals?"

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

There are issues with the gate and with fence removal. 1.) When someone falls and is seriously injured, the city will surely be sued, especially since they intentionally acted to provide access to a dangerous area. 2.) Many people on the cliffs will remove vegetation and accelerate erosion in this already unstable area. 3.) We'll soon see whether people maintain the 50 foot distance from marine mammals as required by law. My bet is that they won't, whether they're approaching seals or sea lions.

Edward Teyssier
Edward Teyssier subscriber

From a legal perspective, I don't see how it much matters which specie of animal is being asked to go, unless that specie is homo sapiens. Because that land was deeded to the city for the express purpose of forever remaining a place for children (and the only reasonable interpretation was human children) the City is bound to either maintain it for the (human) children or revert the property back to the Scripps estate.

Ed Harris
Ed Harris subscriber

Wow,
This is clearly about using the City as his personal ATM. Pease has sued the City for Marine Mammal Protection. He now has completely changed course. I wonder if he has a hidden seal skin wallet to keep all the money in. Neither the seals or sea lions are endangered. They both stink and neither need to have overreaching protection. Pease has fought all reasonable attempts for shared use; now he is pitching for the other team. The new chameleon.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

This is pure unadulterated hokum. Neither the seals nor the sea lions are endangered. They simply happen to be protected under the omnibus Marine Mammal Protection Act. Neither species would be threatened by being discouraged from using the cliffs adjoining La Jolla Cove or the Children’s Pool. There is no science in the value of providing them safe haven, or not, in either location. Only emotion and, now, money.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

The problem is not the seals,sea lions or the birds
The problem is it almost takes an act of God to solve the simplest of problems anymore.
Makes California and San Diego look like idiots.
Am I the only one that finds this whole situation embarrassing?

gene carman
gene carman subscriber

Apparently Bryan Pease lives in some fantasy land... or has never bothered to visit Childrens Pool in the summer... because the reality is not... "local seals return to the same sandy beach year after year and their droppings easily wash away with the tide." The reality is that on a hot summer day the stench of Childrens Pool is something to behold.

Since the seals have taken over Childrens Pool, the water in the area has consistently been on the Clean Water Watch list http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org/learn/swimmable/san-diego-water-quality/beach-advisories.html

So much for "their droppings wash away with the tide..."Beach Advisorieshttp://www.sdcoastkeeper.org/learn/swimmable/san-diego-water-quality/beach-advisories.htmlSan Diego County Beach Status This map reflects the current status of San Diego County beaches from Camp Pendleton to US/Mexico border. San Diego Coastkeeper receives daily water quality information from County of San Diego, Department of Environment...

Clif Williams
Clif Williams subscriber

I am laughing so hard right now. I remember when Mr. Pease showed up at City Hall wearing a T-shirt depicting then Mayor Murphy and Councilman Peters harpooning seals and calling them seal murderers because they wanted to allow people to walk on the Children's Pool beach and share the area with the seals. Here Pease wants to do the same thing with the bluffs and the sea lions. He should create a T-shirt of himself clubing the sea lions and ordering them not to poop. Oh the irony! Next he will be eating fois gras.

Capt.. Dunsel
Capt.. Dunsel

Janet Shelton,
1. laws were passed years ago to protect the City from being liable for accidents like that if someone injures them selves on the bluffs after the fence was installed.
2.. 50 foot distance from marine mammals is NOT a law, it is just a guideline, in fact there is NO distance set by Federal law requiring people to remain from seals or sea lions.
Its misguided statements like yours that has led to confusion and arguments.at Children's Pool. And yes I have checked and I know the MMPA laws on this issue, and suggest you do the same.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Mr. Giffin: Some historical perspective from my personal involvement, as well as latter observations. Marine mammals only occasionally came ashore at the Children’s Pool until the mid-1990s. (I know because I worked there off and on as a lifeguard in various ranks from the mid-1980s on.) When a number of them “hauled out” and tourists started to walk straight up to them, let their kids sit on them, etc., the lifeguards put up a rope to keep people back, both for their own safety and to prevent them from violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is very broad in scope (unnecessarily so with respect to seals and sea lions in my view).

The city was advised by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it would be lawful to take certain actions to discourage marine mammals from using the beach to help avoid conflicts, but chose not to implement them. At some point, marine mammal advocates came to the conclusion that these creatures needed the beach or were the more rightful users of the beach versus humans. They prevailed politically, and now we have the situation we have at the Children’s Pool. There is no science to it.

It seems logical to me to assume that providing additional habitat may increase numbers, which may be having an impact in the area by La Jolla Cove. I don’t know. I am guessing though that the businesses that may love marine mammals at the Children’s Pool (brings business to La Jolla perhaps), now hate them at La Jolla Cove. I suppose nature is really inconvenient.

As for the La Jolla Cove situation, the cliffs there are of course very unstable and constantly eroding. Think of the disputes over homes in Solana Beach near the cliffs, for example. The adjacent street is being undermined and will eventually be unusable due to natural erosion. I presume, though I don’t know, that a reason for the fencing was to help reduce erosion and perhaps also for safety reasons. Having people walk on the cliffs would negate those beneficial effects, but might reduce the smell.

All of this, in my view, based on selfish, unscientific, emotional responses to nature.

nativesdn
nativesdn

I have spent a lot of time at La jolla over the years and it has always been one of my favorite places. Not now though. It sucks and is a real disappointment. I remember when they first started coming as well. You were probably a life guard when I was living in my van. I used to park just down from the Childrens pool before it was pave with sidewalk. It won't hurt the seals to go somewhere else. Where did they go before they started using the pool? Not much use for lifeguards it there is no swimmers. It was the early 90's or late 80's.when they started. I remember some sick ones that had beached themselves there too. That was when the first tape came out as I remember.

John Birch
John Birch

Well well well, Captain Brewster. So your the culprit! So all this time you were that super sensitive lifeguard that kept feeding those baby seals sardines. However as a former lifeguard myself you are the man and you do speak as a man with the best of credentials.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Mr. Giffin: Not sure how long ago you mean? In the 1990s a seal or sea lion advocate (not sure there is a difference) tried to arrest me at City Hall for failure to direct the lifeguards that reported to me to arrest citizens allegedly interfering with the marine mammals at the Children's Pool. The big problem, as Mr. Bradshaw alludes, is that the Marine Mammal Protection Act is so broad that it encompasses species that no longer need protection, but revoking it would literally take an act of Congress and one imagines that we would all be bombarded with photos of baby seals being clubbed to death. In other words, inertia. Once Richard Nixon signed the act, it was probably destined never to be repealed.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

In the past Chris measures would have been taken to correct the situation and it would not be such a big deal. As these populations grow so will the problem....much like dear are in other parts of the country.
Eventually populations will need to be controlled.
In the current environment this is just another example of how complicated we've become even with the simplest of problems.
Makes us look like idiots.
And as Janet Shelton pointed out it will get even more difficult with the coming issues that will surface by installing a gate.
this whole theater and the coming acts are ridiculous.