UPDATE: New video on continued harassment. What part of ‘leave the seals alone’ does the public not understand? See the video here.
BREAKING: Harbor seal pup miscarriages and abandonment due to human gawkers entering protected rookery space on Casa Beach. Ongoing harassment and murder of protected sea lions in the La Jolle Cove area. The Wildlife Conservation Examiner speaks to wildlife advocate Andrea Else Hahn to gain insight into why federally protected seals and sea lions are being harassed and even killed in California.
This tourist guide of La Jolla Children’s Pool, also known as Casa Beach, in San Diego, describes what should be a magical place, with sun worshipers, bikers, hikers and sight-seers sharing the beach’s beautiful sand and waters with harbor seals and other spectacular wildlife. All that is needed is a little compassion, a little understanding. One can admire the seals through binoculars or the zoom feature of a camera. People do not have to tread right next to (or on top of) wildlife to enjoy the beach. However, human nature being what it is, instead of paradise, California beaches are becoming war zones. Pressured wildlife tries to hold it’s own against an ever-increasing human onslaught as urbanization alters or destroys critical habitat areas, resulting in conflict and sometimes aggression on both sides. Humans, with their entrenched sense of entitlement, want their wishes to take priority over the well being of the animals. There is much to be considered on both sides, but bearing in mind that the population of humans is increasing at a heart-stopping pace, demanding more of everything – land, resources, convenience, comfort, profit – it’s easy to see how hapless wildlife loses.
The animals just want to survive, to carry out their ancient dance, as they are meant to, as they have a right to, in a world steadily encroaching on them – human activity changing or destroying everything they hold dear. Tragic seal deaths are making headlines as people (in violation of a federal law protecting marine mammals) harass the animals during pup season, tripping over them, petting them, taking selfies with them. Some, who don’t want to share the beach with any wildlife, who can’t stand the noise, sights or smells of nature, or who feel the animals drive away business, cross rope barriers at night to deliberately kill protected sea lions in La Jolla . “There were numerous sea lions found in La Jolla who had been shot, probably by fishermen, and gaffed (which is sort of a harpoon / hook to bring the huge tuna in with). 5 seal puppies, 8 months old, were knifed in October of 2004 when the rookery became an open beach just after reserve was taken away and shared usage started. One survivor, Honey Bell has had 6 puppies at the rookery hence. Sea Lions found shot along La Jolla in recent times presumably by fishermen. Also gaffed/ harpoon with a hook for bringing in Tuna,” say’s Andrea Hahn, a wildlife advocate in the La Jolla area.
If you were about to give birth, wouldn’t you like – even need – a little privacy? Yet, at this time in their lives when they are stressed and most vulnerable, humans won’t give protected marine mammals a break. Instead of privacy, peace and quiet, the pinnipeds have become unwilling star attractions – and the attention is costing tender lives. There may be signs posted around the rookery/former Children’s Pool Beach, letting people know this is a place for wildlife, and to please respect the animals, but even despite a game warden’s repeated requests to leave the animals alone, curious human throngs keep coming – with disastrous consequences. People bumble right into the designated, protected rookery, stepping (inadvertently, it would be hoped) on pups, stressing new or pending Moms and in general creating a hazard for newborn survival. One distraught mother harbor seal, feeling overwhelmed by the intruding humans, even clambered onto dangerous rocks to have her baby as far from the human meddlers as she could, resulting in the new pup nearly getting lodged in the deep crevasses – which would have been fatal.
Such misguided human actions have already had tragic results. Unrelenting pressure and harassment are causing moms to miscarry, abort or even abandon their babies, resulting in a beach strewn with dead pups and grieving, howling mothers trying to protect or revive their dead infants. This is a tragedy that is entirely preventable, needing only a little respect and self-control from people in the area. Instead, the inexplicably selfish actions of some humans are driving a near- genocide for an entire generation of seals at this California shore.
The issue reaches beyond Children’s Cove and harbor seals, however. Google describes La Jolla Cove as “Cozy stretch of sand tucked between sandstone cliffs for swimmers, snorkelers & scuba divers.” But in reality, it is historically a haul-out site for California sea lions – Animals with an ancient claim to these lands, being squeezed out now by thoughtless (and sometimes vindictive) humans. “They (sea lions) are migratory pinnipeds and travel to the channel islands to give birth in June/ July. The bluffs along the La Jolla Cove are their haul outs . . . A sea lion was found on the La Jolla cove bluff with a fishing gaffe (stuck in it). This happened out to sea and was done by a fisherman. I have video of a puppy crying for his momma after being rescued near death at the rookery, a harbor seal puppy who has been abandoned.” Life is increasingly challenging for marine mammals. “Not only are they losing their 8 month old puppies, but their unborn puppies as well. There are one or two stillborns at the cove every day and born way too soon.”
Sea lions at La Jolla Cove are suffering from a convergence of weather, industrial-fishing related starvation events and increasing conflict with humans on the beaches – And it seems people are unwilling to relinquish space back to these protected animals who have used these ancestral grounds for far longer than humans have had a toe in the New World.
Readers can see a little of what’s transpiring at La Jolla Cove here. The despondent California sea lion mother in this video not only cried and wailed after realizing her newborn was lifeless, she has refused to leave the body, still guarding and trying to nurture it the next day. The baby came too soon and should have been born when the mother migrated to the channel Islands in June or July.
Some people want to drive all wildlife from these special breeding grounds, and are willing to kill some (in blatant violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act) to do it. They seem to feel it is within their rights to banish all wildlife from a place that has supported generations of sea lions (and other animals) from time immemorial. Humans, it seems, have lost their connection to, and tolerance for, anything outside of themselves – bison, wolves, otters, sage grouse, prairie chickens, prairie dogs, and even owls, all being exterminated to assuage human interests.
La Jolla wildlife advocate Andrea Else Hahn, who provided materials for this breaking story, explains what we see in the photos and videos. “Seals and Sea Lions are mutually harassed. . . People have been going on the beach at night regularly and have caused many abandonments. Sugar Puff was a premature harbor seal puppy who died waiting for Sea World to rescue him. South Casa has the harassment in the daytime, so you can guess what happens at night on the closed beach. Shoe prints tell the tale almost every night.”
Infuriated by public conduct which is, she observed, inflamed by the carnival-atmosphere of places like Sea World, Hahn explained: “In San Diego, as an example to the public we have Marine Life exhibits such as Sea World, that represent such falsehoods to the largely uneducated public as to the natural behavior of marine mammals such as Harbor Seals and Sea Lions in the wild. After seeing these misrepresentations, the public eagerly comes to these Rookery/ Nesting areas with a corrupted sense of purpose, prepared to comport themselves as a family on vacation within a wild animal’s nest, but having, in reality, the effect of rabid pack of vultures.”
Hahn goes on to explain, “The Harbor Seals have a Rookery (nest) / Haul Out at Casa Beach and Sea Lioness at the La Jolla Cove area. Casa Beach is closed to the public, but not South Casa nor the La Jolla Cove area. . . .The primary problem is twofold. For the Sea Lions, the El Nino ( warm ocean water) and extensive over fishing, has emptied their food supply of fatty small schooling fish such as sardines and anchovies. The Harbor Seal has a more varied diet, but constant harassment such as you see at South Casa when the beach is open to the public (when it is not pupping season, especially during the two thee months prior), frightens them into the ocean and they get no land rest. I have some videos of this. The Sea Lions (are) also denied land rest by the La Jolla lobby composed of the local restaurants who don’t like their smell. They have been harassed on bluffs that were once fenced-off to the public over falling hazards. Since a gate was put in to allow the public to harass the sea lions for selfies, several people have fallen to their deaths.in the immediate area of La Jolla. San Diego is hypocrisy complete.”
The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters, and polar bears within the waters of the United States, making it illegal to “take” marine mammals without a permit. This means people ‘may not harass, feed, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal or part of a marine mammal.’ Knowing this, why are harassing humans not stopped, fined or jailed?
For a sobering overview of recent marine-life calamities in California (all likely linked to human activities), click here. Speak out for the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions). Sign this petition to stop the harassment of seals at Casa Beach, here.
All photos and video courtesy Andrea Else Hahn. The Wildlife Conservation Examiner would like to extend a heartfelt ‘Thank You” to Andrea for untiring help and support not just during the writing of this article, but on behalf of the Marine Mammals of La Jolla.