“I propose we solicit written comments to help us delve into this,” said council president Steve Haskins at the end of the meeting. Haskins plans to meet with other La Jolla civic leaders between now and the group’s next meeting, May 14, to attempt to arrive at a consensus on ideas for counteracting the Cove sea lion explosion.
For months, the sea lion population has been growing at the Cove. Complaints are increasing regarding their waste polluting the Cove and causing an offensive stench permeating businesses nearby. Some swimmers have stepped forward saying they’re frightened by the animals’ aggressive behavior. The sea lions are also increasingly congregating on the Cove beach, giving rise to fears that they may ultimately “colonize” other local beaches, displacing humans.
Those in the community with suggestions on how to combat the sea lion problem should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of this comes in the middle of a record number of malnourished sea lions being rescued off the San Diego coast by SeaWorld in recent weeks. Mark Lowry, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), gave a slideshow presentation discussing sea lion breeding populations along the California coast.
“The Marine Mammal Protection Act mandates that the agency collect data on the status of pinnipeds (seals) and cetaceans (whales),” Lowry said, noting sea lion mothers give birth in June and early July.
Lowry said sea lions’ diet varies with a number of factors, including the availability of prey fish species and water temperature. He added most fish species preyed upon by sea lions prefer cooler water, so when conditions are warmer than usual, as they are now, it drives prey species to deeper, cooler water. This forces the lions to substitute other available species in their diet, sometimes to the animal’s detriment.
San Diego diver John Leek gave his own slide presentation, concluding in it that sea lion counts being done by NOAA are inaccurate and underestimated because they are incomplete. He contended the NOAA studies don’t account for all sea lion populations everywhere they exist along the coast.
Leek argued that the protection act, created by the state legislature decades ago to protect marine mammals after their populations were decimated from hunting, allows local jurisdictions like San Diego to “take marine mammals in a humane manner to protect the public health and welfare.”
Wildlife biologist Renee Owens countered Leek’s arguments, contending that the “exemption” in the protection act allowing troublesome marine mammals to be humanely removed applies to individual animals only, not an entire species.
“The goal is to protect wildlife under the law, and if you’re goal is to try and have them removed … [t]hat’s not going to happen,” Owens said. “History shows that approach is a losing one. You need to find ways to solve your problems. But realistically, you’re not going to get rid of all the sea lions at the Cove.”
CA Marengo, president of La Jolla Village Merchants Association, representing local businesses, noted seals and humans coexisted peacefully for years along the La Jolla coast. He argued that it was only when the coastal areas were fenced off and humans were denied access that seal species began growing and expanding and fouling the area, causing odor problems that directly threaten businesses.
“There has to be a balance here,” Marengo said. “Allow (human) activity to go on along the bluffs and the beach, and that (problem) will solve itself.”
Marengo added he’s actually seen people holding their noses, adding the Cove smell at times “is really awful.”
“Imagine coming to work every single day and being hit in the face with the smell of sea lion shit: It’s acrid, it’s horrible, it makes me nauseous,” concurred La Jolla restaurateur George Hauer, underscoring the seriousness of the ongoing Cove stench problem.
Owens responded that any attempt to try to remove sea lions entirely from the Cove was “the wrong approach.” She said allowing humans to get closer to pinnipeds is not the answer, arguing that is a clear violation of a state law that seeks to protect marine mammals by separating them from humans.
Longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather pointed out the the seals are “usurping” beaches wherever they haul out. She implored La Jollans to “take our beaches back.”