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San Diego Wants to Get Rid of One of Country's Best Seal-Viewing Spots

Despite protests from local residents and the distaste of City Hall, San Diego is on the verge of spending $700,000 a year to play the sound of dogs barking to the 100-some seals at the Children’s Pool. The harbor seals (small, gray and shy) and sea lions (big and more aggressive) have been hanging out at the beach for years, delighting tourists, seal protectors and at least some residents.

But others are fighting to use the area the way donor Ellen Browning Scripps originally intended and state law proscribes: for children. The manmade beach is the subject of dueling lawsuits. Valerie O’Sullivan wants to get rid of the seals and she got a state court judge to order the city to get rid of the seals to clean up the bacteria in the water.

Who is Valerie O’Sullivan? A former resident of La Jolla who moved out of the country years ago and isn’t even a citizen. So, the city has argued she shouldn’t have a say in the matter. But meanwhile, the city had to come up with this absurd, expensive plan to get rid of the seals by playing dogs barking dawn to dusk and spraying water on the seals.

Meanwhile seal lovers and the Animal Protection and Rescue League tried to get protection for the seals in federal court. The federal fisheries agency was no help: they said the city didn’t need any special permit to get rid of the federally protected animals. Then again, that was a Bush era ruling, so is anyone surprised?

Meanwhile a third plan to save the seals is that the legislature could just change the the law about the purpose of the beach. San Diego says that the seals will just move to “Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and other nearby coastal spots.” Of course if they knew that for sure, there wouldn’t be any fuss really. Nobody knows what will become of the seals if they are forced out. It would be a lot easier to move the children’s part of Children’s Beach to one of those areas. It’s a lot easier to get parents to comply with some common sense adaptations–aside from Ms. O’Sullivan. You can’t tell seals where to go.

This is also a perfect case for federal protection. This beach is a unique natural attraction in the country. It’s one of the few places you can go to see sea mammals reliably hauled out on the beach. The beach itself is no natural wonder; it’s one of those giant let’s mess with nature infastructure projects that would never get off the ground today. The sea lions that showed up one day at the San Francisco Pier 39 certainly got in the way of boaters. But the city reasonably worked out a way to let them stay–and got a delightful addition to the city.

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