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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2009 |The battle has been many years in the making. Both sides have ardent supporters, who have been rallying in person and in recent years on the web. Legislation has been passed, appealed, and overturned. The issue is rife with controversy. Its soldiers are young and old, married and single, some with old ties, and others who have just joined the fray. Restraining orders have been acquired. Is this a fight for gay marriage? A rally for halting illegal immigration? A protest against government torture?
No, this is a fight over the use of a tiny strip of beach in La Jolla, where harbor seals have chosen to make their home.
Each year, thousands of tourists flock to the La Jolla area, drawn by the shops, ocean, and yes, the seals. Just as many locals come to gaze at the animals, which don’t object to the visitors and are almost always in sight, lounging on the beach or diving in the waves. Why then do so many people want to force the seals out? The answer is that many La Jollans want their children to swim in the protected area the beach, known as the Children’s Pool or Casa Beach, used to afford.
The Children’s Pool was the brainchild of Ellen Browning Scripps, a generous philanthropist responsible for founding Bishop’s College, the first library in La Jolla, Scripps College, and the Scripps Institute for Oceanography. When the city of San Diego acquired the land, Scripps generously funded a concrete breakwater to form a safe place for children to swim. However, the site was ill-chosen for a children’s pool, as seals had been in the area, previously known as Seal Rock Point, since at least 1887. In 1970, forty years after the wall had first been built and sand had filled up much of the area, seals began using the land as a haul-out point and breeding ground.3
For a while, seals and humans shared the beach, the seals being as a whole non-confrontational. Their pups returned to the place they had been born, expanding the colony and taking up a good part of the beach. Despite this unique opportunity to watch the seals up close, some La Jollans wished to restore the beach to its former status as solely a children’s pool. They campaigned to force out the seals, to the great chagrin and resistance of residents and environmentalists alike. I have researched the issue thoroughly, and I wholeheartedly believe that the seals should remain on Casa Beach.
First, I would like to address the issue of whether the beach was originally meant to be a children’s pool. The answer is that the land, which was granted to the city of San Diego under Chapter 937 of the Laws of 1931, was not dedicated exclusively as a children’s pool- that was only one of six specified possible uses for the land. The other possible uses include “recreational purposes” which “could mean almost anything, from amusement parks to movie theaters to athletic fields — or, surely, as has been the case for decades, seal-watching.”
There are also many laws protecting the seals that would be broken in the effort to remove the seals from the beach. For example, the Marine Animal Protection Act, which is “the basis for policies preventing the harassment, capture, injury, or killing of all species of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions,” defines harassment as “any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which. … has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”
Furthermore, the city’s attempt to “restore” the Children’s Pool would be highly impractical and ineffective. It would most likely violate some of the laws preventing waste of city funds. The proposed dredging plan would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and is hardly a surefire fix to the beach’s problems. Professor of oceanography and beach erosion expert Douglas Inman warned the city their plan for dredging the sand “will not only fail to cure the purported problems at Casa Beach, but will cause serious additional problems — including undermining the cliffs and the property that sits atop them.” Even if the sand is removed, the issue of keeping the seals away has not been solved. The generations born on Casa Beach will keep returning there until they are somehow forced not to. The option of relocation has been deemed too expensive, and blocking the beach off entirely would cause problems for divers.
When I was a child, the wonder of seeing a seal dipping in the waves eclipsed all the joy a frolic in the water could bring. The La Jolla seals are something that very few children today get to see: wild animals thriving in their natural habitat, not behind a glass window at a zoo or on television. The seals definitely pose some challenges to the beach, such as water quality and diver’s rights. Once a decision concerning the seals is made, these issues will have to be addressed. It is my opinion, however, that the problems caused by the seals are far outweighed by their many attractions. The Children’s Pool of today might not be how Miss Scripps envisioned it, but I believe that she would be happy that her Children’s Pool remains a unique place where countless children delight in the sights that they, like me, will remember for a lifetime.
Tamara Cherwin is a junior at North Coast High School. Her essay reached the finals of the 2009 voiceofsandiego.org Essay Contest. The other finalists’ pieces will run this week with the winner’s appearing Friday, Feb. 20.
Day, Deborah. Ellen Browning Scripps, her Life and Philanthropy.” Talk presented at the Birch Aquarium. 18 October 2000. Accessed online on eScholarship Repository.
Holzer, Henry Mark. The Children’s Pool and the law. 19 October 2004. Accessed on SignOnSanDiego.com. <>
The Marine Mammal Protection Act. [Internet] The Humane Society of the United States. Cited 20 January 2009
Background and Controversy. [Internet] La Jolla Friends of the Seals. Cited 19 January 2009.
Inman, Douglas. Profile. [Internet] Scripps Institute of Oceanography. 15 December 2008. Cited 25 January 2009.
Lecky, James H. “Whose Beach is it Anyway? Accessed on the Scripps Institute of Oceanography site.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 As Amended 2007. Accessed on NOAA Fisheries Service website.
Timeline. [Internet] Friends of the Children’s Pool. Cited 19 January 2009.