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San Diego Council Votes to Rope Off Seals at Beach

April 19, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Supporters of the harbor seals that live on the beach at the Children's Pool in La Jolla won a round Tuesday in the long-running feud over whether the beach belongs to seals or humans.

The San Diego City Council, at the nudging of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, voted 7 to 1 to install a rope barrier to keep people from the seals during pupping season, from Jan. 1 to May 1.

But the decade-long fight over the sheltered cove is far from over, including a pending court ruling that could allow the city to dredge the beach. Dredging would most likely force the seals to relocate to another beach or an outcropping of rocks offshore.

The seals have become a major tourist attraction. But their feces have polluted the sand and water.

The cove has been a favorite for families since the 1930s, when newspaper heiress Ellen Browning Scripps donated money to build a breakwater so that children could have a place to wade. For unknown reasons, the seals arrived in the mid-1990s.

The council voted in 2004 to dredge the beach to encourage tidal flushing, but the action has been caught in litigation. A trial court judge ruled in favor of dredging, but the issue is on appeal.

Members of the Sierra Club and La Jolla Friends of the Seals urged the council to vote in favor of the rope barrier, saying the 200-plus seals and their offspring need the protection. Without a barrier, the seals are likely to be harassed by beachgoers, they said.

But others said the seals are attracting great white sharks and thus endangering surfers, swimmers and boogie boarders. A half-eaten seal washed up on the cove last year, prompting lifeguards to issue the first shark-alert in decades.

"The city over the last eight years has set up a feeding station in La Jolla for the great white shark," said Richard Guarascio, one of several residents who spoke against the rope barrier. "Remove the food source from the Children's Pool before someone is killed."

The issue has brought angry disputes and protests from both sides.

The federal agency has installed cameras at the cove to catch anyone harassing the seals.

"I hope in the future that the humans can be a little more respectful not just of the seals but of one another," said Councilwoman Donna Frye.

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