I came across a wonderful little beach called Casa Beach in La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), also known as Children’s Pool Beach during a recent family vacation to San Diego, California. It was my first time to California and I was very excited as I always dreamed that I would move there one day to become an Ocean Scientist. It was a great trip! San Diego is a great city and I also took a trip up to Los Angeles to do some sight seeing/touristy things. Casa Beach was fantastic as well. It’s a small beach originally made for children and families and populated by harbour seals shortly after opening. I initially thought it was a great way for families to watch harbour seals in their natural setting for free (it costs $70 to see seals at Sea World!); however, there is a huge controversy at Casa Beach relating to the interaction of humans with seals.
There are two groups in the controversy: 1) La Jolla Friends of the Seals who are for keeping the beach open to the public where anyone can see a harbour seal, among other seals, up close and personal; and, 2) The Animal Protection and Rescue League who want the beach shut down to the public all year to allow the harbour seals to thrive. Now, I must tell you that the beach is shut down to the public from December to Mid-May as the seals breed and raise there young during that time. The beach was shut down from the public all year round last year by the City Council; however, a recent ruling lifted the access restriction after the breeding season to allow beach goers to the beach.
Normally, I would be for banning people from the beach to ensure the harbour seals reproduce and thrive all year long; however, after being on that beach with my children and witnessing a harbour seal swim up to the beach not 30 feet away from us, I am not sure banning people will do anything. In my opinion, the beach should remain open to the public during non-breeding times as long as the population is not affected by the human interaction. With that said, how do we make sure the populations is secure?
My wife and I teach our kids to give animals there space, especially wild animals…and we did that day. When other people approached the beaching seal, it swam back out in the water away from any interaction. I spoke to a local SCUBA diver about the issue and he mentioned the seals love to swim up to the divers and scratch their necks on the diver’s fins, or if the diver puts his/her hand out, the seals will allow the diver to scratch them on their neck.
This is a great article to post for Ocean Day as it is a true testament to the daily controversies we scientists, explorers, and conservationists see everyday. There are many questions I ask myself as I know very little of the monitoring programs for the area. Is there a monitoring program that tracks the health of the seal populations (i.e. is the population growing or reducing in numbers)? Have there been any deaths of seals due to human interaction? Since the seals do not go on the beach when people are present (i.e. I was told they go on the beach at night after people leave), I have to ask the question: How important is the beach to seals when there are other places in the local area not 200 metres away where the seals occur during the day (the seals were on large rocks sun bathing or in the water)?
There is also the important question to ask ourselves: Will the interaction with seals help establish an emotional connection between humans and animals which may spark a movement for that individual to want to protect the Ocean and the Seals?
I am torn in this issue as I do not know much about the situation. What are your thoughts? Let me know