La Jolla Seal Deal

One of La Jolla’s most vexing crises could be on the road to resolution, thanks to bill approved by the state Senate April 16.

As anyone who walks along the shoreline in the ritzy San Diego neighborhood will plainly see, an enclave of harbor seals has selected as home a small cove near the intersection of Coast Boulevard and Jenner, just shy of Scripps Park.

The problem is San Diego was given that section of tidelands, in trust in 1931, for use as a coastal park and a children’s pool. Aptly enough, the property is called “Children’s Pool Beach.”

Until the seal squatters showed up in the 1990s, the cove was a children’s pool. Whether the seals should be evicted and the cove restored to its former purpose has been the subject of a fair amount of legal wrangling.

“The city has spent more than $1 million in legal fees to come to a conclusion,” Sen. Chris Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat, told her Senate colleagues in urging their approval of her bill, SB 428 which is aimed at settling the long-running dispute.

In 2005, a Superior Court ruled that the seals must go and the site be returned to a children’s pool because that is the stated use for the property in the 1931 trust agreement. An appellate court agreed.

The seals found more sympathy in federal court, which, in 2008, blocked the city from removing the seals pending a decision on whether the seals were protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

San Diego is effectively left between a seal and a hard place by the dueling decisions. The state orders the seals removed; the federal court says they stay.

As Bill Craven, chief consultant to the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, dryly notes in his analysis of the measure:

 “The dueling passions for children’s swimming and seal protection are on full display in San Diego with frequent and unfortunate encounters between the two sides.”

Kehoe introduced her measure at the request of the San Diego City Council. The bill would amend the 1931 tidelands grant to San Diego to read that the cove is a “marine mammal park for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children.”

Changing the language would allow San Diego, rather than the courts, to decide what to do with the Children’s Pool.  Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, support Kehoe’s bill as the first step in allowing the seals to stay put.

But Kehoe insists the measure is simply a way to allow San Diego to determine its own fate. Or, in Craven’s words:

“This bill does not seal the fate of the Children’s Pool.”

Passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 30 to 4 vote, the measure needs to be approved by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before becoming law.



  1. Here’s the deal. No one ever told the seals that this was an area for children to
    frolic in the tide pools. I’m sure if it had been properly noticed, the seals wouldn’t be there. But to them, this is just a very shallow part of the Pacific Ocean, which is WHERE THEY LIVE. The San Diego County coastline runs for some 60 miles. Surely it would be easier for children and their parents to leave the seals alone — they were there first.

    Comment by J. Costeau — 4.20.2009 @ 5:00 pm

  2. The seals just need to be left alone. Something has to be done so they don’t go extinct.

    Comment by Online payday advance — 4.22.2009 @ 1:08 pm

  3. Just wait until the rope comes down at the end of May and then you will see a lot of human use at the Children’s Pool
    1. Beach cleanups at the Children’s Pool every month
    2. Beach volleyball tournaments at the Children’s Pool every weekend
    3. Local divers running a swim with the seals program at the Children’s Pool for tourists every weekend
    4. I and other divers have audio harassment devices for seals and we will use them every time we dive at the Children’s Pool and that will be every week.
    Who knows, there may be no seals left at the Children’s Pool at the end of the summer.

    Comment by Water Nut — 4.23.2009 @ 9:46 am

  4. The post by “Walter Nut” is clearly an impersonation to make SB428 opponents look like…nuts. 1. Beach cleanups are done every other month by citizens because City policy is to never clean CP, leaving the seals lying in their own feces, unknowingly trading disease and parasites 2. CP has never seen volleyball because the sand is sloped. 3. Local diver cannot be persuaded to do anything at CP because of harassment by vigilantes and fear of unwarranted federal prosecution – both have happened to me. 4. NOAA has tried for a decade to come up with an audio device to get seals to leave an area, or any non-lethal means to get them out of salmon locks. None work.

    This is not an animal welfare issue. The seals that were introduced to Children’s Pool to make a tourist attraction are doing fine. Citizens who wish to lawfully go on public land and enjoy the beach, even when there are no seals on it, can be harassed, attacked, falsely accused of crimes and intimidated from ocean access that is supposed to be protected by California law. This is done by animal rights activists who have been granted a concession at Children’s Pool by the City of San Diego. This is a public land access and civil rights issue.

    Comment by John Leek — 4.24.2009 @ 6:37 am

  5. If there is no Children’s Pool trust, there is no Children’s Pool. Let us face reality, if you can change the conditions of a trust it does not exist. If there was a proposal to build the Children’s Pool seawall today, it would be rejected by the community and the California Coastal Commission. It is time to get rid of the Children’s Pool seawall and solve the financial problems for the city of San Diego.
    Expect many of the pocket beaches in La Jolla to be future homes of harbor seals and sea lions. The populations for these two pinniped species are increasing off La Jolla and more of them will use the beaches of La Jolla for hauling out and pupping activity. While there may be around 30 harbor seal pups born at the Children’s Pool beach every pupping season, there are additional harbor seal pups born in the water. The same can be said for the reproduction of sea lions off La Jolla. Do not be surprised when the La Jolla Cove must be closed to humans as well as the Children’s Pool and South Casa Beach which are now harbor seal rookery areas.

    Comment by Robert Johnson — 4.27.2009 @ 7:19 am

  6. Do not fool yourself, we can get rid of the seals at the Children\’s Pool. We have access to audio harassment devices (AHD\’s) and seal bombs and these work. A variey of loud disturbing levels of noise underwater can be deployed from boats in the Children\’s Pool area day or night and at least a majority of the seals will be driven from the area. So go ahead and plan the Children\’s Pool for marine mammal habitat. You might as well also designate Coast Boulevard which is the street that runs by the Children\’s Pool as marine mammal habitat, we don\’t care. Once we drive the seals away, there won\’t be any marine mammals to inhabit the designated marine mammal habitat.

    Comment by additional water nut — 4.27.2009 @ 8:18 am

  7. So Sea World dumping over a hundred harbor seals from their rehabilitation release program near the Children’s Pool results in the establishment of a natural harbor seal rookery at the Children’s Pool. Well isn’t that special, so let us create some additional marine mammel habitats in San Diego. Let Sea World dump rehab harbor seals at public pools and fountains all over San Diego. We could have marine mammal habitats at the Coggins Pool at La Jolla High School and at the fountains at University Town Center Mall. That would create more tourist attractions in San Diego, right!
    It is clear that there are quite a number of morons and idiots in San Diego. Neandrathal man may have begun in Europe many years ago, but this primitive hominid culture is alive and well in San Diego.

    Comment by Jason — 4.28.2009 @ 11:55 am

  8. Do not come down on the seal activists or pro-seal people too much. Remember that animal rights activists have been classified as anti-social people and may be emotionally or mentally dysfunctional in society.

    Comment by Sheryl — 4.28.2009 @ 12:16 pm

  9. It is clear that the city of San Diego has no intentions of honoring the trust established for use of the Children’s Pool with the Ellen Scripps family back in the early 1930’s. I would not give a dime of money in trust now to the city of San Diego.
    After consultation with a client who was considering giving 3.8 million dollars to the city of San Diego for a trust for Balboa Park, I have convinced the client to change their mind and not give any money to the city of San Diego for any purpose whatsoever.

    Comment by Charles Donaldson — 5.04.2009 @ 7:40 am

  10. Over the last ten years, I wonder how many environmental and animal rights organizations have made lots of money off the harbor seals at the Children’s Pool. Organizations throughout the country have asked for and collected financial donations to protect the seals at the Children’s Pool. Still others have sold seal souvenirs and t-shirts at the Children’s Pool and around San Diego claiming the money would benefit the seals at the Children’s Pool.
    This is a big fraud which has suckered the not-so-smart American public out of their hard earned money. At least the city of San Diego should get some of this profit, after all, they are in charge of managing the beach at Children’s Pool. However, knowing how the city of San Diego works, they have even screwed this up.

    Comment by Business As Usual — 5.05.2009 @ 7:40 am

  11. I hear that the beverage company that bought out Budweiser plans on selling the Sea World parks, or at least the one in San Diego because it is just not profitable anymore. The sea water system is over 40 years old and is too expensive to fix. It now costs 65 dollars for one person to get into Sea World in San Diego and they can no longer compete with Disneyland and other theme parks in southern California.
    So the seals at the Children’s Pool is the replacement seal attraction for Sea World.

    Comment by Goodbye Seaworld San Diego — 5.11.2009 @ 7:44 am

  12. As a visitor to the area while looking for a cove I enjoyed as a child I stumbled across Children’s pool. I recalled reading about it briefly online before our trip here and was actually relieved to possibly find something a little more child friendly as I viewed the rocky coastline and steep terrain. I stopped to inquire if this would be a nice place for the children. I did not realize what I had really stepped into! After being properly warned that if seals came on shore to give them room and not harrass them I decided to bring my young children to the cove and enjoy what sunshine was left. The children happily found some tide pools on the edge and became immersed in actually seeing what they had learned about. Various seals came on shore or even swam closer to us but just watched us. The children were mostly engrossed in the sea anemones and other sea life. We decided to return today to see if the tide was the same. We were continually harassed verbally by a seal activist with a megaphone, threatening us, emotionally begging us to leave the seals alone. The children continued to play but it was quite alarming to me. I do know someone called the police worrying about what she might do to me (I’ve heard someone was stun gunned recently) and in the end after enough verbal abuse I also called the police. The woman denied half of what she said to me, including calling me deranged! I do believe it was the other way around and feel bad for all of La Jolla!

    Comment by Kara Lanctot — 12.03.2010 @ 10:09 pm

  13. How about getting Sea World to sterilize the seals they have released past and present? The population is exploding at an alarming rate with both seals and sea lions at the children’s pool and the cove.

    Comment by Mary Ellen Morgan — 3.02.2011 @ 12:45 pm

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