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Giving harbor seals their due
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
August 26, 2004
"Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere, the circumference no-where." — Blaise Pascal
I received an e-mail from a reader last week, requesting that I turn my attention towards La Jolla, and the efforts there to evict the colony of Harbor Seals (phoca vitulina richardsi) that have historically used the beaches and coves of the area as a haul out and rookery. At question is who gets to use the misnamed Children's Pool.
The first time I addressed this issue was in 1999, the last attempt to reclaim the beach in the name of anthropocentrism. Absolutely nothing has changed.
Built in 1931, the breakwater reached from Seal Rock Point across to Seal Rock just off the coast, closing off the channel and the natural flow of water to the south in order to leave an enclosed pool area. Ellen Browning Scripps conceived and funded the Children's Pool shortly before her death, to create a safe bathing area for children. The breakwater protecting the beach at Seal Rock Point was built in the middle of vital harbor seal habitat. Habitat established over millenniums.
At the time the breakwater for the Children's pool was constructed, the harbor seal population was already severely diminished due to human predation. The young were hunted for their soft fur present during the first weeks of life, and fisherman targeted the adults as a competitive species. Recognizing the species to be endangered, in 1938 the State of California protected harbor seals and other pinnipeds from uncontrolled hunting through legislation. San Diego's human population was nearing 700,000, the village of La Jolla a tiny fraction of this.
Slowly the harbor seals would make their way back to the beach, always maintaining a flipper-hold on the Seal Rock habitat, despite an astronomic rise in human population. In 1972 the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protected the colony at Seal Rock from certain oblivion. Because the protections provided by the MMPA, the La Jolla population of phoca vitulina richardsi has rebounded, and the beach at Seal Rock Point is once again a nursery for future generations.
Yes ladies and Gentlemen, conservation does work.
Since the completion of the breakwater at Seal Rock Point a lot has chanced, and considerable knowledge has been gained in the field of marine biology, knowledge that feeding and breeding habitat. Because of the science endowed by Ellen Browning Scripps through the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, we now understand the biology that has kept the shy and solitary Harbor Seal returning to the beaches above the submerged La Jolla Canyon. Knowing then what we know now Ms. Scripps would never have financed the construction of the Children's Pool.
Since February 2000 the National Marine Fisheries Service has recognized Seal Rock Point as a natural harbor seal haul-out and rookery site.
Although the science is in, and species protection is in place, there is still some attempting to perpetuate the idea that the beach at seal rock point is the exclusive property of humans. Despite all evidence of to contrary there are still people asking San Diego city government to dedicate city revenue in a fight against state and federal agencies in order to restore the human swimming pool at Seal Rock.
Of course most people are saying why don't those folks just share the beach the seals. Sadly the water quality at Children's Pool detrimental to human health due to the fact the man-made breakwater does not allow for bio-filtration, trapping seal excrement with the result being a biological hazard for humans. Hence the swimming ban at children's pool since 1997.
For more at least 3 million years Harbor seals have been coming to the beach at La Jolla Canyon. The selfishness a few humans should be seen as it is. The rookery at Sea Point is the only one in Southern California. The next one north along the California coast is near Carpenteria 200 miles away. Unlike humans, harbor seals do not migrate. The residents of San Diego County have access to the Pacific Ocean at nearly every other beach in the region.
The ethical choice is to concede the beach at Seal Rock Point, and allow these animals their place in the sun. The ecological choice would be the removal of the breakwater and the restoration of the native habitat.
Harbor seals have always inhabited the beach at La Jolla, and they always have. Money spent trying to prevent this will only be money wasted in the name of anthropocentrism.
Lest we forget, the seals were there first.