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A year or so ago, Cleveland saw a sea lion at the Cove “literally lunge at this guy and actually tore through his wetsuit” while he was trying to enter the water. He wasn’t taunting the animal, “he just wanted to get in and go for a swim.”

“Definitely the sea lion was the aggressor,” she said, and “after he was bitten he left.”

“I don’t like to live my life in fear,” said Cleveland, who stopped swimming at the Cove in 2012 because of the sea lions as well as persistent ear infections that she said subsided soon after she stopped going in the water there. Although she can’t prove it, she attributes the ear infections to the sea lion poop.

“In front of us, shoots a sea lion — you know they shoot right in front of you — [with] a big giant poo stream shooting out the back,” Cleveland said. “When that happened to me, it just really ruined it for me.”

Also fear-producing are the escalating recent sightings of Great White sharks, which feed on seals and sea lions, one of which washed up on La Jolla Shores in June with a shark bite. Rose and other swimmers say it’s just a matter of time before a shark mistakes a swimmer wearing a black wetsuit for a sea lion.

“It’s not if, but when,” said Richard Walker, 73, a La Jolla business owner who swims at the Cove most mornings with a group, including his wife, often to the Shores and sometimes making the three miles to the Scripps pier and back.

But for the city officials who are juggling competing human interests as well as legal restrictions and marine mammal protections, alleviating the situation is not as simple as finding somewhere else to swim.

Despite microbial solution having been sprayed on the cliffs of the Cove in June and September 2013, the same public health and welfare concerns that prompted former mayor Bob Filner to declare an emergency there this summer still exist.

“The same sort of declaration could be made today,” Merkel said. “The concern becomes what would you do if you had it…because the approach we took before would not be the most reasonable, efficient, or prudent. Right now the key is formulating an approach that makes more sense. Making the findings doesn’t seem to be the biggest problem.”

Meanwhile, as the sea lion population continues to grow, the animals are becoming more comfortable and more established at the Cove, which means that the related problems may increase as well.

“There’s plenty of rock out there,” Merkel said. “It’s certainly not at capacity. There are certainly more animals that could show up there that haven’t.”

Merkel likened the colony of sea lions to a pack of dogs off their leashes that feel as though the Cove has become their own yard in which to play.

“It’s just a matter of the comfort zone. Once they become accustomed to that being their rock and that area, they will become more protective and more territorial.”

That awful smell

So far, the city has paid Merkel & Associates $50,000 under an initial contract. In mid-November, Merkel said additional services would require newly authorized funds.

The city paid $50,000 to Blue Eagle to spray the cliffs for about a month, starting in late May, and again for about five days, starting in late September.

Although the microbial bacteria solution of bacillus was billed as all-natural, Rose said she threw up in the water while swimming along the cliffs on two separate occasions — not knowing that they had just been sprayed until afterward.

“I didn’t know they did a second treatment,” she said. “I was throwing up all day. The next day I saw the signs…. That’s not supposed to be bothering us.”

Merkel agreed, saying the spray should not have caused anyone to get sick, particularly because there was no runoff from the cliffs into the water.

“We actually prevented all runoff,” he said, explaining that they weren’t allowed to spray the steep area on the cliff faces or during high winds.

“There is an awful lot of waste in the water — sea lion waste — so I wouldn’t be surprised” if someone could have gotten sick from that, Merkel said.

The intent was to spray the solution only on the waste and not where the slope breaks on the water. As planned, the bacteria went to work eating the bird guano, multiplied and died off, taking the waste and related odor with it.

Only a short time after the spraying treatment, however, an equally nauseating odor emerged, which likely had been there all along and only became more evident once the nose-burning ammonia from the bird poop had been eliminated.

Once Merkel, city officials, and the merchants realized that sea lion poop was then the primary cause of the odor problem, pleas for action from the business community started up again.

Although Merkel considers the first two phases of spraying to have been “very successful” and said the city could continue to treat the lingering and persistent smell with further sprays, he also said it wouldn’t be an efficient or permanent fix because the odor would be renewed every time the sea lions had a good feeding on greasy sardines and anchovies.

“It was not sustainable in the current condition because, again, like I said, it would take days, weeks, months to generate the kind of waste that a sea lion can do overnight,” he said. “As a result, that kind of treatment works well with an accumulated waste.”

So, it was back to the drawing board as Merkel and city officials tried to find a more comprehensive, long-term solution.

“I don’t think people are intentionally being obtuse about their responses,” he said. “I think it’s honestly a more complicated issue than the smell, [which] is really a symptom of a bigger problem.”

“It’s making people sick.”

Water-quality issues make up one component of that larger problem. On October 17, swimmers and divers at the Cove saw the first cautionary posting by the county Department of Environmental Health since 2009. Including the one in 2009, there were seven previous postings since 2002.

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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 energynews.com) 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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