Howard Gordon, a distinguished-looking fellow in his 60s with a refined British accent, engaged in some verbal sparring with one of the few dozen protestors gathered Saturday morning to show support for La Jolla's seals.
The seals are nature, his opponent argued, but Gordon didn't buy it. “So what you're saying is seal poop is natural?” he quipped. “You're amazing—you really are,” he told the woman, gesturing to the sturdy concrete sea wall that's made that particular portion of La Jolla shore an especially cozy place for the pinnipeds to chill. “This,” he said of the wall, “isn't nature. If the wall wasn't there, the seals wouldn't be there.”
While the debate raged on the cliffs above, down on the beach, 80 or so of La Jolla's estimated 100 to 200 Pacific harbor seals lolled on the sand, scratched themselves with their flippers and, if so impelled, scooted a few feet here and there. The only sound any of them made was an occasional raspy sneeze. By all appearances, the doe-eyed blubbery marine mammals hadn't a care in the world.
The fate of the seals, meanwhile, seems to have divided the town. City Councilmember Scott Peters and quite a few vocal constituents-many of whom would probably be happy if they never saw another seal in their lives-want the seals off the sand and onto nearby rocks so that “Children's Pool” beach, as the area cordoned off by the sea wall was named more than 70 years ago, could be re-opened to kids and their families. In 1997, Children's Pool was closed to people because poopy contamination from the seals had raised the level of bacteria in the water to unhealthy levels.
“Remove Scott Peters, not our seals,” recommended one seal advocate's poster-board sign. “Seals are great,” read another's. Eleven-year-old Alice Hudnall, a white-blonde, wearing a t-shirt that said “La Jolla Seal of Approval,” stood up on the tailgate of a parked truck and with the aid of a microphone sang a Carribean-tinged tune she said was written by her music teacher in honor of the seals.
“The future of their home, it's up to you and me. Together we can learn to be friends of the sea,” the waif-like Hudnall crooned in a clear soprano.
Currently, the seals' area of sand is roped off. The Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act dictates that any attempt to disturb the seals, well meaning or not, might interrupt the seals' natural life processes. The California Coastal Commission created the seal reserve—approximately one acre of ocean space—in 1994. On this particular day, several families lined up along the yellow rope to scope out the charmingly indolent creatures. One out-of-town visitor inquired as to what the protest was about. When informed, she looked perplexed. “I don't get it,” she said motioning to the seals. “They're not hurting anyone.”
On April 1, Peters will bring the issue before the San Diego City Council to try to come up with a creative way to re-open Children's Pool that'll, ideally, please the humans, as well as the seals.