It's a good thing a harbor seal didn't wander into the La Jolla Town Council meeting Monday afternoon. If it had, it would have felt most uncomfortable. No doubt about it, at this public gathering, the harbor seal was mammalia non grata.
A show of hands revealed that seal critics outnumbered seal advocates at the meeting 72-16. Yikes. Judging from the vocal element of the anti-seal faction, the feeling seems to be that the marauding harbor seals have stormed the beach at Children's Pool, maliciously pooped all over the place just to make the water unhealthy for the kiddies and stubbornly refused to leave.
Besides polluting the water because they don't have the decency to use a bathroom, they've destroyed the natural environment below the surface with their incessant swimming, some said. They just don't “belong” there, said one angry guy. After all, there's a whole ocean for them, said another, echoing the published comments of San Diego City Councilmember Scott Peters. One woman after the meeting was heard saying, “They're the rats of the sea.”
Rats of the sea? Geez, that's pretty harsh. Go easy on the critters.
Harbor seals have been spending time near the beach, now known as Children's Pool, for a century—and probably a lot longer than that. Their traditional haul-out site, where they rest and raise their body temperatures, has been Seal Rock, an offshore outcropping near Children's Pool. Sometime in the early-1990s, a few harbor seals (which are not, in fact, members of the rodent family) took a liking to Children's Pool. And everybody thought that was just grand. But then more and more of them starting hauling out there, and it wasn't long before they had established the beach as a full-blown rookery.
Unbeknownst to the seals, they're well protected by federal law, which says, essentially, that you can't bug them so much that you change their behavior. That means you can't do anything to discourage their colonization of the beach—that would change their behavior.
Also unbeknownst to the seals, the fine people of La Jolla consider the beach the property of their children, who for decades have benefited from the calm waters created by an artificial seawall financed by moneybags do-gooder Ellen Browning Scripps. Unfortunately for the children, the seawall has also created favorable conditions for a seal rookery—the lack of natural hydrological scouring action has allowed for the gradual deposit of fine sand, which harbor seals find highly appealing.
So what we have here is a showdown between two largely oblivious contenders. In the children's corner are the well-heeled, politically connected people of La Jolla—and Councilmember Peters. In the seals' corner is the federal government. Clash of the titans? Maybe, but our money's on the seals. Although federal authorities don't, by any stretch, believe this haul-out site is essential for the seals' survival, they're going to enforce the law.
This is precisely the rationale for the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and CityBeat 's glad it's working in the seals' favor. We're not sure why some people in La Jolla are so bent out of shape over this. Considering the havoc we've wreaked on the coastal wildlife environment, most other communities in California and beyond would be proud to have created a new, vital habitat.
As for Peters, who has made a big public noise about choosing the children over the seals, we wish he'd choose more important battles to fight. He's responding to a loud outcry from some pissed-off constituents, but we think he's wasting his time.
This one's a loser, Mr. Peters. Give it up.