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Saving Space for Seals and Sea Lions

The coast of Southern California is one of the most populated places in the United States with areas like Los Angeles and San Diego accounting for the majority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The region also happens to be the home of a large variety of wildlife species. Among them, seals and sea lions are a common sight, even in some areas that are heavily developed by humans.

Sharing resources with wild animals can sometimes be a complicated endeavor. Animals like seals and sea lions have even been described as a nuisance to the public. This is evident when visiting places like Dana Point Harbor where reports of local sea lions invading docks in the marina regularly appear in the news. Another place where sea lions can be found in abundance is La Jolla, which is just north of San Diego. There the local residents appear to be dealing with a much more unique problem, the smell of excrement from the marine mammals. According to information from Land Use Law Report, a group called the Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement (CONA) sued the city and state for building a fence along the bluffs that allegedly led to an increase in the presence of sea lions which resulted in foul odors increasing as well. The lawsuit was unsuccessful as CONA did not effectively demonstrate the city or state was responsible or at fault for the animals’ behavior or odor.

But it’s not just the animals who exhibit invasive actions. In these densely populated areas where humans and wildlife regularly interact, it is becoming increasingly evident that shared resources have a limit. Some concerned wildlife activists have documented human activity as being problematic for the seals. People tend to gather around, encroaching upon the animals as they rest along the bluffs. Most are there to admire the animals and take photos, but it quickly becomes harassment when the seals flee, or worse, bite. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which takes in injured, sick, or abandoned seals, states that many of the animals they treat are suffering from injuries inflicted by people, mostly fishing nets, rigging, and trash. Sea Lions have even been reportedly found dead due to gunshot wounds. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has put forth a guide on methods used to deter seals and sea lions in places they are unwelcome.

It is important for people to find ways to compromise and create regulations and management practices that benefit people and wildlife. For example, a particular section of La Jolla known as Children’s Pool Beach has a seawall that was initially built in the 1930s to keep crashing waves out of the cove, making it more ideal for recreation with small children. However, because of the calm waters in the area, Harbor Seals found it to be a great place for their children as well. So now, from December 15 through May 15 the beach is closed to the public, allowing the seals room from giving birth and raising pups. The seawall happens to serve as a great way for people to observe the animals at a comfortable distance and still enjoy the area.

Besides the coast, the ocean is another resource vital to people and marine life. Humans use it for food, recreation, commerce, and travel. To seals and sea lions, it is their home and solitary source for food. According to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, malnourishment accounts for the majority of the rescues they take in for rehabilitation. A primary food source that has become increasingly scarce is forage fish like sardines and anchovies. Because of this, along with encouragement from organizations like Audubon Society, a bi-partisan bill known as the Forage Fish Conservation Act (H.R. 2236) was just introduced on April 10. If passed, the bill will restructure the way forage fish are currently managed with the goal of reestablishing a more healthy and sustainable stock. Speaking about the importance of better forage fish management, Restoration Program Manager with the San Diego Audubon Society, Megan Flaherty says, “Northern Anchovy is a hugely important food source for so many different marine animals like Least Terns, other Marine seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish. And so, if we're taking out the same amount every year, even in years of decline, we're going to be negatively impacting all these animals.” She says San Diego Audubon has been advocating for the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to create a better monitoring system where they actually are getting an estimate of what the stock size is and then changing their quota depending on the results.

Finding ways to compromise and live alongside wild animals is hard work. It can involve a lot of trial and error. But, with the welfare of people and wildlife in mind, comprehensive and effective solutions can be reached to ensure plenty of resources are left for all to enjoy.

La Jolla, California, tourism, sea lions, wildlife
LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA (April 10, 2019) Beachgoers observe and admire a group of California Sea Lions.


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