Casa Beach Harbor Seals Need Your Help!
Commentary by Kurt Lieber, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Board of Directors
The harbor seal colony that had been enjoying the comfort of Casa/Children’s Beach in La Jolla, California, is becoming increasingly harassed by some careless individuals who aim to drive them away from this vital haul out (rest area). Casa Beach is these seals’ only mainland haul out between Rosarito, Mexico and Carpinteria, California and the last harbor seal rookery in all of Southern California.
This 100-yard beach was designated as a harbor seal colony by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2001 and has been protected by California law since July 2009, supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
All marine mammals are protected by federal law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This Act makes it illegal to harm these animals in any way that “has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption or behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.” The MMPA establishes heavy fines for violations, as well as possible imprisonment.
Residents who want this beach area all to themselves are intentionally disrupting the harbor seals’ habitat by walking directly through their colony and by placing beach chairs and umbrellas that encourage people to encroach on their space. This careless territorialism scares the seals and causes them to retreat into the water, leaving behind their pups who are too young to swim and left to die, or not even come onto the beach in the first place.
Please visit the site of the La Jolla Friends of the Seals for details on all the political back and forth decisions that are playing volleyball with the fate of these animals’ lives.
Casa Beach or Children’s Pool?
It is estimated that as many as 80,000 people visit this site every month just to get a glimpse of the seals. Yet there are a few folks in San Diego who don’t want to cede any turf to these peaceful creatures. Their argument is that this beach was intended as a children’s haven by the Scripps family, who in 1931 paid for a sea wall to be constructed around this beach to protect it from the pounding surf thus becoming a popular area for families, and of course, the harbor seals. While this area has been regarded as “Children’s Pool” for a long time, as it turns out, the legal documents that were written to establish the intended use of this area make no mention of it being used exclusively by San Diego’s human children.
Besides, wild animals cannot read, nor can they vote. They do what comes naturally to them; they find and use a suitable place to rest and raise their young. I have been snorkeling and diving this particular site since 1979. The entire coast of La Jolla is a haven for marine wildlife. Part of it has been designated as a marine protected area, with no taking of fish or invertebrates allowed. This is an absolute haven for all forms of marine wildlife, such as sea lions, harbor seals, several species of sharks, giant sea bass, lobsters and octopus, to name a few.
During one of my most memorable dives ever, at 30 feet deep, I swam for a half hour in one direction, and from that depth to the surface was a wall of barracuda. This school had to be composed of several thousand individual fish. There were dozens of leopard sharks resting in the kelp forest and sea lions dive-bombing the school of barracuda trying to snag a snack. It is this type of diversity that makes La Jolla such a magical place for people of all ages.
Divers come from all over the world to experience the diversity off the coast of La Jolla. Yet, the city of San Diego is doing absolutely NOTHING to protect the Casa Beach seal colony from harassment by the minority that want the beach to themselves. For years, there have been volunteers traveling to the area to inform the public about the biology of these animals and also to educate about the laws that protect them.
But the enthusiasm to protect the harbor seals is waning. It is time for us to do something about it. We need to have volunteers step up to the plate and spend time in shifts down at Casa Beach. Such an initiative would have three benefits: 1) the seal colony will get the peace and quiet they deserve, 2) you will get to be in close proximity to these magnificent animals the whole time you are there, and 3) you are making a difference in the lives of creatures who cannot defend themselves. Don’t forget to bring your mask and fins, head into one of the other coves and swim with them yourself.
Please contact Grace Ko at the Sea Shepherd Venice office by calling 1-310-396-7600 to sign up as a volunteer. Longtime Sea Shepherd volunteer Robb Mead will assist Grace with coordinating the volunteers. They will provide you with the necessary history and facts about the city’s lack of law enforcement in this area and why these marine mammals need this beach to survive.
Be sure to bring your video camera and a positive attitude. We will post volunteer blogs and video to inform our nation of the shame that is transpiring in San Diego. We must apply pressure on our elected officials and law enforcement to do what we pay them to do: enforce the law as written, not just when it is convenient.
Let’s put our good intentions into direct action right here in Southern California, our own backyard.