The Tenuous Relationship Between Man and Mammal In San Diego

Upon taking these images I couldn’t tell you the difference between a sea lion and a seal.  When I descended the steps into La Jolla cove, I was enamored by the wildlife, as I am by all wildlife.  I was in awe of these creatures and appreciative to have the opportunity to coexist so closely.  

Though, it was a bitter sweet encounter due to the vast number of visitors and their complete lack of empathy for another living creature’s personal space.  I quickly became uncomfortable as I watched countless people approach a family of sea lions, hover inches away and even try to touch them.  One aggressive bull spent his entire day herding his family into one adorable pile and then chasing tourists away and barking loudly.  Most people laughed.  I didn’t think it was funny.  I sensed his level of anxiety and could not fathom why people didn’t draw the parallel that they themselves would be enraged if they were laying on the beach with their family and a constant parade of people came by, invading their personal space and trying to pet their children.  

I thought the seal conservancy organization said it best, “Although harbor seals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the reality is that many tourists unfortunately don’t understand the effect it can have on the seals when they engage in behaviors such as posing close to the hauled out seals for a selfie.  Such seemingly innocuous actions can result in premature births, abandoned pups, and even pup mortality. The City’s Ranger does a wonderful job educating visitors about our seals, but he isn’t on-site 24 hours a day.”  This sentiment could be echoed for any species of the family unit.  

In researching to write this piece, I came to understand the complexities of the events surrounding the relatively recent emergence of these creatures at La Jolla Cove.  What has transpired in recent history in San Diego is a classic dilemma of the relationship between human existence colliding with the natural world. According to several sources, the sea lions are viewed as a problem.  The seals, who have long called these surrounding shores home for mating and birthing, are not viewed as a menace.  The main difference being that sea lions are potentially more aggressive and have created a stench in the area that drives local business owners mad.  It has been confirmed that the stench stems from the urine and feces that the sea lions generate from hauling out onto the cliffs where the ocean cannot quickly wash their excrement away.  Seals, having smaller flippers, cannot climb the cliffs.  Therefore their waste is washed away.  According to KPBS Radio News the problem began when the city put up fences along the bluffs and cliffs which then invited the new guests to feel welcome without the presence of human interference.  

It wasn’t long before these new visitors overstayed their welcome and many solutions were introduced, but thus far, to no avail it seems.  It turns out that my frustration with the hoards of people blatantly disrespecting the personal space of these creatures was the result of one such solution.  The theory being that to provide direct access to the sea lions by visitors would ultimately drive the sea lions away.  Not a terrible theory, but they seem to be a more stubborn creature than we give them credit for.  

I don’t want your take away from this piece to be, “Don’t visit La Jolla Cove.  There are aggressive sea lions and it smells bad.”  My experience was a rich one and the issues at hand are complicated and only a microcosm of a much larger issue concerning our constant struggle to coexist with the natural world.  Go to La Jolla, to Childrens Beach and Casa Beach.  Experience our clash with nature, but do it knowingly and respectfully.  If you keep a respectful distance and simply coexist, then you  will have no issue with these animals.  

Don’t hover over a baby and somehow expect you won’t get bitten from an angry and stressed parent.  Don’t cover your face and exclaim how terrible the stench is.  Guess what, you go see wild animals, they typically defecate and it can smell.  For the love of God, don’t feed them (are you kidding me people, do I really have to say this?) Honor the right of these animals to bask on the same shores you do without harassment.  They have the right to enjoy the beautiful, pristinely blue waters, sandy shore line and dramatically stunning landscape as much as you and I.  Go to La Jolla Cove and be respectful of the gift that nature has laid at your feet.