Subject: Seals in San Diego

Dagmar Fertl (
Thu, 15 Apr 1999 14:38:15 -0400

     Here in San Diego, there is some controversy over seals. There is an
     area in the La Jolla coastal area called childrens beach. It was
     developed by building a sea wall to protect the beach area so children
     could enjoy the water. A large seal population has taken over the 
     beach and the children cannot use it. The problem is the accumulation 
     of seal fecal matter that is polluting the water. The city considered 
     moving the seals and dredging the area to get rid of the waste. This 
     caused an uproar from people that want to leave the seals alone. My 
     question is: if the waste continues to accumulate ( apparently it will 
     not wash away due to the sea wall) will this eventually have a 
     detrimental effect on health of the seals.
     Thank you
     Glen Holloway
        I'm familiar with the San Diego harbor seal situation, and 
     consulted with a colleague who is also familiar with the situation.  
     My understanding of the situation is that this has been a hotly 
     debated situation, because it would appear to involve a clash of seal 
     interests with the clash of human interests in the beach (not saying 
     humans couldn't be interested in seals though).  Apparently, the 
     problem started with suspected pupping of harbor seals on a large 
     rocky area just off the beach, and seals on the beach. 
        Swimmers, SCUBA divers, etc. would climb on the rock and displace 
     the seals and it was believed that these seals were moving onto the 
     beach where people would do things like try to put little children on 
     their backs, put sunglasses on the seals, etc. The local life guards 
     tried their best to control the visitors and inform them of the 
     dangers of messing with the seals, but that was not their job--it was 
     a distraction from their lifeguard duties and actually almost missed a 
     couple rescues because of it  It was decided to make the rock a 
     temporary reserve. I think it was believed that with this area 
     protected, the seals would stay off the beach and on the rock. 
        Pretty soon, the seal population started to overtake the beach and 
     the water in the cove showed high coliform counts, so it was off 
     limits to swimming. This type of thing was exactly what the detractors 
     of the temporary reserve feared.
         Someone decided that if the area is dredged, it will increase 
     tidal flow, clean out the area, and possibly displace the seals so it 
     can return to its original function of being a protected coastal area 
     where kids can swim. 
        There is no easy solution -  part of the problem is that the number 
     of seal pups is increasing.  Seal populations fluctuate up and down 
     and part of what controls the number of pups is disease. When large 
     pops are in a common area, disease spreads quickly. So, the final 
     answer, I guess, would be yes. A disease outbreak could occur. But 
     then, maybe the pup numbers will naturally decrease and the kids can 
     have their cove back. 
        In my opinion, and I am certainly not well versed in the La Jolla 
     situation, is that having the tide go thru and clean things up would 
     be good (then again you might have high coliform counts nearshore 
     along an entire beach area...I don't know enough about the tidal 
     flushing in that area).  On the other hand, causes a marine mammal to 
     change its behavior (including disturbing it enough that it leaves an 
     area) is considered 'harassment' and violates the Marine Mammal 
     Protection Act (hence, National Marine Fisheries Service's 
     involvement).  I think this particular seal situation is a good 
     example of how hard it is to manage a situation that is both favorable 
     to seals, as well as humans.  
        Hope this answers your question.