Look at this guy, just having a little snooze.

Big yawn. So darn cute.

Can you believe some people want to oust him from his cozy rock and never let him return?

It’s true, but not without good reason. Back in 1931, a local philanthropist in La Jolla paid for the construction of a sea wall to create a ‘Children’s Pool.’ In this sheltered cove, children could swim protected from the waves. The completed project was given as a gift to the City of San Diego.

Notice in the picture above (photo credit: Maureen Berryman), there’s not much left of the sheltered cove. In the 80 years since the sea wall was constructed, sand has accumulated in the cove reducing the protected swimming area to almost none. Especially at high tide, the waves have no problem wrapping around the end of the wall and crashing onto the beach.

Sand build-up can be dealt with easily. The beaches in Carlsbad, where I live, are bulldozed out almost every week to preserve the eroding coastline. Why hasn’t the city done anything about this?

The nearby Seal Rock, an outcropping just 100 yards away from the Children’s Pool, has long been home to harbor seals. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, an increase in the local seal population over the past few decades has caused the seals to search for new haul-out sites. In the 1990’s, the seals started appearing on the beach at the Children’s Pool.

In 1997, the city closed the Children’s Pool to swimmers, citing unsafe levels of bacteria due to the high amount of seal excrement in the water. This caused an uproar. The area was explicitly designated for swimming, and now swimming was banned?

(photo credit: Phil Konstantin, Wikipedia Commons)

Two rival groups formed: those in support of the pool’s intented use for recreational swimming and animal rights activists who believe the area should be designated as a marine mammal sanctuary. Many La Jolla residents want the seals removed, not only because they had taken over the swimming area, but also because the colony is a big magnet for unwanted tourism.

In the last few years, a heated legal battle has ensued over the fate of the seals. In 2009, a judge ordered the city to begin removing the seals, or it would face heavy fines. A few months later, the case was transferred to a different judge who overruled the previous order, thus allowing the seals to stay. The city installed a rope barrier in 2007 to prevent people from getting too close to the seals during pupping season. However, this barrier was ruled to be illegal by an appellate court in 2008; since the area is designated for public use, the public needs to be allowed to use it. A year later a judge granted permission to reinstate the rope, but it was to be considered “advisory,” and the public was allowed to pass through it if they wished. Just last week Friday, June 3rd, another judge ruled that the rope can be removed completely.

This unique situation has created an environment where no natural or legal barrier separates humans from wild animals. Many people take advantage of this, disregarding both the wellbeing of the seals and their own personal safety. Some get so close that they frighten them and force the seals into the water. Seals can become aggressive when they’re harassed or feel threatened, and will not hesitate to bite.

The story usually reads as such: animals lay claim to the land first, and then later, humans force themselves into the animals’ territory. But this time, it’s the opposite. True, humans did alter the landscape by building the sea wall, and in doing so welcomed the seals right in. But is anyone really at fault here?

With both human and seal populations growing bigger, our Earth is becoming smaller and smaller. The little resources we have left are growing exponentially in value. As the price of these precious resources goes up, it becomes harder and harder to share. ☼