The colony “hauling out” on the rocks and swimming around the waters of the Cove has grown logarithmically.
  • The colony “hauling out” on the rocks and swimming around the waters of the Cove has grown logarithmically.
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About a year ago at the La Jolla Cove, longtime marathon swimmer Claudia Rose was making her way toward La Jolla Shores with a friend when a group of sea lions charged at them. Startled into a fight-or-flight reaction, the swimmers veered to the south, toward the caves, to get away from the pinnipeds. Rose’s friend panicked, cramped up, and couldn’t swim very well, but his wetsuit kept him buoyant until he could recover.

Also fear-producing are the escalating recent sightings of Great White sharks, which feed on seals and sea lions.

Rose was shaken by the confrontation but was even more unnerved a couple of months later, when a sea lion attacked her injured, bandaged hand.

“I had tape on my finger. He ripped off the tape and he broke or sprained my finger really badly,” said Rose, 49, a systems engineer who has been swimming at the Cove for nearly two decades. “We haven’t had that kind of touching behavior before.”

Sea lions sometimes try to discourage swimmers from entering the Cove waters.

Reflecting a population explosion of sea lions along the California coast, the colony “hauling out” on the rocks and swimming around the waters of the Cove has grown logarithmically in the past decade.

The small number of sea lions that swimmers used to enjoy watching frolic some years ago has turned into a colony of as many as 300, ranging in size from 100-pound females to 900-pound bulls, which have been mounting, biting, charging, and baring their teeth at swimmers and beachgoers.

Keith Merkel, a biological consultant hired by the city, says, “The thing about people is they’re willing to pet anything until they get bit.”

“The baring the teeth thing — they’re very aggressive, so again, people have to remember they are wild animals,” said Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal biologist with the National Marine Fishery Service’s West Coast regional office, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s hard to predict or know what they might be thinking.”

Drew Downs (left) and Richard Walker swim daily at dawn in La Jolla Cove. They were recently blocked by a large and aggressive sea lion who bared his teeth whenever they tried to enter the water.

Lately, the increasingly territorial animals have started blocking swimmers from getting into the water, forcing people to walk back and forth on the beach until they can find a safe opening to enter the ocean. One even went so far as to bite a swimmer wearing a wetsuit at the water’s edge.

“It could be that they have their area and they may be trying to stay within that area,” DeAngelis said. “During August, it could be the tail end of breeding, that dominant behavior. The following [of swimmers]…could be a confused male; it could potentially be thinking it’s another male. They are probably looking for food, too.”

This sign posted at the new gate to the previously fenced-off bluffs above the Cove that sea lions frequent. Many swimmers hope that the presence of people on the bluffs will reduce the sea lion population.

She said people are exacerbating the problem by tossing fish, potato chips, and leftover food off the cliffs and over the sides of boats.

“People need to quit feeding them,” she said.

The animals are also making their larger presence known by excreting big bubble clouds of brown waste and streams of urine into the water and onto the rocks, and keeping residents awake with loud barking.

Mark Dibella, managing director of La Valencia: Boxer Floyd Mayweather booked two villas and six rooms. Mayweather checked in and, 15 minutes later, checked out all his guests.

“It’s dirty, it stinks, and it’s like swimming in a toilet that hasn’t been flushed,” said Anne Cleveland, 57, a yoga instructor and former La Jolla Town Council president.

Once thought to be caused by the avian guano on the rocks, the foul odor that has tourists covering their faces with their T-shirts or scarves, exclaiming, “Oh, my God, this is awful,” has recently been determined to be caused by vast quantities of sea lion poop.


Sea lions claiming La Jolla Cove for their own

La Jolla Cove locals discuss the sea lions that have descended upon La Jolla Cove in the past ten years, befouling the area with poop and becoming aggressive with humans.

La Jolla Cove locals discuss the sea lions that have descended upon La Jolla Cove in the past ten years, befouling the area with poop and becoming aggressive with humans.

The odor is a problem unto itself — driving locals and tourists away from area restaurants and hotels — but it is also an indicator of an even broader set of problems, including water-quality issues and the increasingly troublesome pinniped vs. people interactions playing out on the sand and in the water.

The lifeguard log provides a chronicle of such incidents in 2013. On April 16 at 5:04 p.m., “seal nuzzles and mounts woman off beach, [lifeguard Mark] Feighan in on board to assist and chase seal away.” Lifeguard chief Rick Wurts said the lifeguard grabbed a rescue board after the swimmer either signaled for help or the lifeguard somehow realized she was in distress. He “became concerned for her safety, and went in to assist her.”

On July 26 at 5:50 p.m, lifeguards used the public address system to warn “citizen of very aggressive sea lion in Cove.”

The next day, lifeguards used the public address system three times to warn beachgoers: once at 9:50 a.m., about an “aggressive sea lion on beach”; at 6 p.m., when “a sea lion bull charged beach,” and again half an hour later, when lifeguards had to warn a crowd of 30 “citizens to keep back” and away from the animal.

On August 6 at 12:30 p.m., “sea lion comes onto beach and nips at waders.”

There’s room for more sea lions

The city hired Merkel & Associates to help the city resolve the odor problem. Keith Merkel, a biological consultant, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about such incidents because he’d anticipated them happening.

“The upshot of it is having that many people and the sea lions both thinking that the Cove is theirs is going to generate those territorial interactions,” Merkel said. “I think people are more curious. The thing about people is they’re willing to pet anything until they get bit.”

Although Merkel said the animals may just be playing and don’t intend any harm in some cases, even some of the most hardcore ocean swimmers are reporting that the animals are scaring them or making them so uncomfortable that they have started swimming elsewhere.

“Fear” has become part of a vocabulary that these athletes don’t like to admit and don’t want as part of their recreational lexicon, so they have chosen to avoid it, even some who have been training at the Cove for 30 years.

Rose, who used to come from Pacific Beach to the Cove to swim anywhere from one to ten miles in a day, is now swimming at La Jolla Shores. And so is Cleveland, who has made it across the English Channel four times with no wetsuit and without stopping — including a two-way trip, from England to France and back, nine years ago. Once a channel swimming coach, she used to swim six times a week at the Cove, for four or five hours at a time.

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archer472 Jan. 16, 2014 @ 6:13 a.m.

Get rid of them, have Sea World come in, take what they want and relocate the rest to someplace else


lovableone Jan. 16, 2014 @ 6:55 p.m.

Wow! Talk about typical ignorant one percenters complaining about "their" ocean and "their" land! Get over yourselves already.This article is missing the key question- What is the cause of this recent animal behavior? Instead of looking into the why, the author of this story is oblivious to the marine life behavioral changes occurring because of man made overfishing and pollution. The sea lions are reacting to the decline of food in the northern waters and the radiation pouring out of Japan's failed nuclear reactors EVERYDAY. Starfish are literally melting (see and sardines are scarce, etc. The real culprit is man's ego driven misplaced priorities. Wake up, look around you. The ocean's inhabitants are sounding the alarm. Using Seaworld to do your dirty work is criminal. Haven't you seen "The Cove" yet? Too busy with your quest for more money and martini lunches?


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Jan. 18, 2014 @ 11:10 p.m.

This message brought to you by the Society of Guilty Humans.


Restore Children's Pool C. Jacobs Jan. 19, 2014 @ 9:24 a.m.

Go watch BlackFish and learn that sea lions and seals are just a comodity to Sea World. Wake up and look under the sea, do you see Garibaldi, do you see mussels? Do you see urchins, and the other Tide Pool Creatures gone from the fecal contaminition. Research Cape Code and their seal populations into the thousands, feces killing species just like at Children's Pool. Sharks have been killed for fin soup to the tune of 100 million a year, what do they eat? Its the law of suppy and demand. Yes Mankind is involved, rescuing animals that need to be left for food for sharks, not making money off allowing them to starve. then to rescue the same animimal again, tag it for a few grand and do it over and over again. Its about money. Population controls must be institututed to care for the balance of the ecoystyem, before they start to starve to death again and rot on the rocks for your view and stench. Look under the sea and see the truth.


Restore Children's Pool C. Jacobs Jan. 19, 2014 @ 9:32 a.m.

Sea World brought them beginning in 1992 . No pre release EIR was done to ascertain if the local underwater eco system could sustain such huge numbers of new marine mammals. No on going studies to compare pre seal and sea lion release fish stocks and species counts in relation to the ongoing birth explosions. Or the fecal contamination and the many species killed off in the shallows and tide pools by decaces of seal feces leaching at The Children's Pool. Open the slucieways, plant sea stars, remodel the ramp to ADA Standards. Lets Put Children's Pool on the ADA Map of the World and give back to our disabled folks and the many limbless Veterans , who have NO other safe ocean pool entry anywhere.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Jan. 16, 2014 @ 11:36 a.m.

It looks like the solution is as simple as letting people picnic and play on the rocks. A perfect, cheap solution. Of course it's too perfect.

We'll have to spend a few million more dollars on studies before anything is done.

PETA, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the Society of Guilty Humans will get involved.

There will be six or seven lawsuits. (See Children's Pool, Mount Soledad.) There will be old ladies with misplaced priorities self-appointing themselves as defenders of the sea lions. (See Children's Pool.)

Get used to the smell, La Jolla.


monaghan Jan. 16, 2014 @ 3:17 p.m.

The "smell" is in fact a stench and pinniped colonization of the rocks at La Jolla Cove has become a serious problem affecting sightseers, swimmers and locals as well as the area's economy.

This is an excellent story -- and video -- that accurately describes the situation. I know other hard-core ocean swimmers at La Jolla Cove who are refusing to work out in those turbid waters.

There are remedies that harmlessly discourage the animals and mitigate the stench -- Mayor Bob Filner got the ball rolling -- but no one else at the City seems to have the brains, resourcefulness or willpower to continue his effort. To be continued, I guess.


Restore Children's Pool C. Jacobs Jan. 19, 2014 @ 9:44 a.m.

The smell has been bad at Children's Pool the safest swimming area for years. We need to unite and save Children's Pool especially for the disabled and the Cove as the two human swimming areas , all the rest for the marine mammals. How many bits and illnesses will it take Mr. City Attorney? How much money will the City keep giving to attorneys who do not care a fig about marine mammals, only the money they can make for supporting flushing them or not flushing them, which ever way the wind blows, for the dough being made off the comodity of seals and sea lions. Who is looking and protecting the ecosystem from the over populations of these lovey pinnepeds? No one. Cape Cod fish stocks will never recover from their populations of seals now into the thousands, and the stench overpowering even the most ardent of seal viewer. It is about Balance, and we need to restore ours. With all these Marine agencies, just looking the other way as they collect their salaries based upon keeping the populations explodiing? Come on, we want an abundant MPA like Cabo Pulmo not species depletion and pollution from feces!!! Let's wise up as a City. Check out Syndey Australia, and follow their lead. They keep their 45 ocean pools, like our Children's Pool clean and free of marine mammals, and they love their creatures too. They love swimming in the ocean and keep their ocean pools clean and safe. We only have one and have allowed it to fall to ruin. It's only rebar and concrete and sand. Judge Pate ordered that sand dredged and the pool restored back in 2004 after all EIR were done and all agreed it was best for seals NOt to haul out there as the breakwater does not wash the feces and e.coli and potentiallly T.B. germs to wash clean. The sand was to be piled in the sun for cleaning then taken to La Jolla Shores where they needed some sand. The studies were done to show the sluiceways can be opened. The seals will be fine and better off in a clean pool restored back to a POOL, it was not meant to be a beach, Children's POOL. POOL, not beach. Can you imagine a great ADA Ramp there and Challenged Athletes practicing, elderly doing water therapy, Casa Manana folks actually able to enjoy fresh clean sea air and not feces stench. The stench gets just as bad as the Cove and has been for decades.


CaptainObvious Jan. 16, 2014 @ 7:52 p.m.

If the City cannot comply with Kate Sessions' terms of the gift, keeping it open as a safe place for children to play, they should act honorably and either return it to the Sessions family or remove the sea wall, returning it to it's natural state..


dansimo Jan. 16, 2014 @ 8:24 p.m.

Dear Captain Oblivious,

This story is not about "The Children's Pool". It's about La Jolla Cove. Seals are at CP. Sea Lions at Cove.

And btw, it wasn't "Kate Sessions" that "gifted" CP, it was Ellen Browning Scripps.

Ok, back to the discussion at hand... ;-)


Restore Children's Pool C. Jacobs Jan. 19, 2014 @ 9:28 a.m.

It is not Kate Sessions Captain, it was Ellen Browning Scripps who built the wall for Toddlers, the Elderly and for those handicapped in life's game, her words. There is no other safe ocean pool entry for wheelchair swimmers along the San Deigo coastline. The Children's Pool is IT, and the ramp was the primary acces route, is a legal dedicated vertical access poing on the La Jolla Coastal Plan. Just enforce it. Allow the disabled access again. Open those sluiceways and the pool cleans itself.


jnojr Jan. 17, 2014 @ 11:03 a.m.

Build it, and they will come. Applies to stinky sea lions / seals as well as stinky bums.

If you welcome and protect and shelter and encourage something, you get more of it. If what you're getting is a problem, then the answer is to DISCOURAGE it.


monaghan Jan. 24, 2014 @ 1:12 p.m.

Tear down that sea wall! Building it long ago was a well-intentioned, wrong-headed, shortsighted, human intervention that today carries serious negative consequences for humans and sea creatures alike. A man-made masonry structure extending into the ocean from the coastal bluff? Get rid of it and restore the natural shoreline.


TyeJ Jan. 27, 2014 @ noon

This situation would be funny if it wasn't so sad. It's easy to see why the City felt compelled to fence off the cliffs next to the Cove. The cliffs may be unstable, but the people climbing on them were even more unstable. I have watched and regularly participated in the rescue of people who put themselves and others in danger while enjoying the coastline there. Avoiding lawsuits is a proper function of government.

People from all over San Diego, both east and west of I-5 enjoy the ambiance an amenities of the La Jolla shoreline. So let me start with some givens:

No one is suggesting shooting the seals and sea lions, as has been done by fishermen.

People have a right to the ocean that borders their habitat. Seals and sea lions are not endangered and are not protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Physically moving the animals is stupid, would be ineffective and impractical, and would probably prove dangerous to the animals.

Chemicals, no matter how harmless the manufacturer claims them to be, probably aren't.

Simple solution that protects the public from its own clumsiness and the city from lawsuits and keeps the unhealthy effects at a minimum and is cost effective:

Hire a couple of frisky dogs! They love to chase the birds, (which they never catch), and whose presence would deter the seals and sea lions from taking up residence there. The animals would find a more quiet place to hang out, one less peopled and swimmers and the public would have the beach back, which they rightfully desire.

Finally, the humans who use these areas, both the Cove and Casa could reasonably be designated as "transient marine mammals", equally deserving of the protections of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Now get it together San Diego, and stay classy.


luxgrisgris April 4, 2014 @ 8:30 p.m.

Just went there for the first time, after moving here from out of state. The place was bustling with happy tourists and (counting us) locals. We checked out the sea lions for a while, then walked up the road a little and went down and played in the sand in surf for a while. It was great. We've done swimming at Pacific Beach too before, but for a really lovely view and relaxing day we're coming back to the cove, sea lion stink or no. :)


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