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Chaos at La Jolla sea lion rookery

A top tourist attraction

Seal lion pup and mom giving a kiss - Image by Gail Salter, iStock, Getty Images
Seal lion pup and mom giving a kiss

As the pandemic lockdown lifts, beach-goers have headed to La Jolla Cove en masse - right into the start of sea lion pupping season.

And neither signs warning people to stay away from the animals nor calls by city officials last week for people to act responsibly have stopped the mayhem.

According to the Sierra Club Seal Society, park rangers, who are only present on the weekends, log about 92 harassment incidents per month.

On Saturday, beach visitors were back at it, "petting and frightening the sea lions," said Ellen Shively, a volunteer docent who reminds people it's not a petting zoo.

Trouble began brewing the previous weekend, just before Memorial Day.

A crowd of people "poked, prodded, and cornered a yearling so that he repeatedly hit a wall or the cliff and probably broke his spine," Shively said. He was later found dead.

A pregnant female was "presumably" kicked in the head; blood and bruising was apparent, she added. As the colony moved up the hill for warmer air that night, she never moved.

Two other pregnant females were found in distress; one with a fish line around her neck, another with a broken flipper.

Injured pregnant sea lion

"It appears that people are intentionally harassing and deliberately hurting the sea lions, though some of this may be unintentional because of the large crowds."

The docents are far outnumbered.

"We estimate 400 plus people every hour in this small area with many pregnant females."

Adding to the chaos are lots of barking dogs, which are allowed (on leash) before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. from April 1 through Oct. 31.

Much of the harassment occurs at sunset.

At San Diego's May 28 environmental committee meeting, advocates again rallied for meaningful changes.

Robyn Davidoff, Sierra Club Seal Society docent, requested immediate support to budget for a fulltime ranger at Pt La Jolla sea lion rookery.

"Most of you or your staff have joined us for a tour and witnessed tourists within feet of the sea lions," she said. "You left feeling appalled by what you saw" and suggested more signage and better management by Parks and Recreation.

At last week's press conference at the cove, San Diego city councilman Joe LaCava announced that more signs would be posted.

It's illegal to touch, feed or harass sea lions, which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as signs long posted at the cove advise visitors. Disturbing them can separate mothers and babies - which Shively spoke about at the environmental committee meeting.

Two new pups, born the day before, were at the bottom of the stairs people use to get to Boomer Beach and Pt La Jolla. The pups were in danger of being trampled and separated from their mothers, leading to starvation and inability to bond.

Davidoff said the weekend park rangers, there on an overtime basis as part of a trial run, have been successful at reducing the harassment. But due to over 90 incidents per month on weekends alone, more are needed.

Sea lions are a top tourist attraction in San Diego, bringing a lot of revenue to the city, she said. A full time park ranger "would be funded by tourists."

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Seal lion pup and mom giving a kiss - Image by Gail Salter, iStock, Getty Images
Seal lion pup and mom giving a kiss

As the pandemic lockdown lifts, beach-goers have headed to La Jolla Cove en masse - right into the start of sea lion pupping season.

And neither signs warning people to stay away from the animals nor calls by city officials last week for people to act responsibly have stopped the mayhem.

According to the Sierra Club Seal Society, park rangers, who are only present on the weekends, log about 92 harassment incidents per month.

On Saturday, beach visitors were back at it, "petting and frightening the sea lions," said Ellen Shively, a volunteer docent who reminds people it's not a petting zoo.

Trouble began brewing the previous weekend, just before Memorial Day.

A crowd of people "poked, prodded, and cornered a yearling so that he repeatedly hit a wall or the cliff and probably broke his spine," Shively said. He was later found dead.

A pregnant female was "presumably" kicked in the head; blood and bruising was apparent, she added. As the colony moved up the hill for warmer air that night, she never moved.

Two other pregnant females were found in distress; one with a fish line around her neck, another with a broken flipper.

Injured pregnant sea lion

"It appears that people are intentionally harassing and deliberately hurting the sea lions, though some of this may be unintentional because of the large crowds."

The docents are far outnumbered.

"We estimate 400 plus people every hour in this small area with many pregnant females."

Adding to the chaos are lots of barking dogs, which are allowed (on leash) before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. from April 1 through Oct. 31.

Much of the harassment occurs at sunset.

At San Diego's May 28 environmental committee meeting, advocates again rallied for meaningful changes.

Robyn Davidoff, Sierra Club Seal Society docent, requested immediate support to budget for a fulltime ranger at Pt La Jolla sea lion rookery.

"Most of you or your staff have joined us for a tour and witnessed tourists within feet of the sea lions," she said. "You left feeling appalled by what you saw" and suggested more signage and better management by Parks and Recreation.

At last week's press conference at the cove, San Diego city councilman Joe LaCava announced that more signs would be posted.

It's illegal to touch, feed or harass sea lions, which are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as signs long posted at the cove advise visitors. Disturbing them can separate mothers and babies - which Shively spoke about at the environmental committee meeting.

Two new pups, born the day before, were at the bottom of the stairs people use to get to Boomer Beach and Pt La Jolla. The pups were in danger of being trampled and separated from their mothers, leading to starvation and inability to bond.

Davidoff said the weekend park rangers, there on an overtime basis as part of a trial run, have been successful at reducing the harassment. But due to over 90 incidents per month on weekends alone, more are needed.

Sea lions are a top tourist attraction in San Diego, bringing a lot of revenue to the city, she said. A full time park ranger "would be funded by tourists."

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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