Monday, January 9, 2012

In La Jolla People-Versus-Seals Battle by Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

                Seals hang out at Children's Pool beach in La Jolla. (Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times / December 12, 2011)

On the beach at the Children's Pool, curious tourists and locals, many with cameras at the ready, approached the dozens of harbor seals sleeping in the noonday sun.

From her vantage point on the sidewalk overlooking the horseshoe-shaped beach, Dorota Valli, a volunteer with the unofficial Seal Watch Campaign, was ready with her bullhorn.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she announced sternly, "please stay behind the rope. The seals are pregnant and they need their rest. No picture is worth hurting the seals."

At the other end of the sidewalk, near the lifeguard tower, were activists of an opposing stripe who believe Valli and her group are robbing the citizens of San Diego of the right to enjoy the breakwater-protected beach and its tranquil access to the ocean.

"They're shutting down the only man-made beach dedicated by trust for the children," said David Pierce of the San Diego Council of Divers. "You don't have to be against the seals to be in favor of humans."

In a city with chronic financial problems and the usual set of urban dilemmas, there appears to be no issue that has engendered as much passion for the last two decades as the confluence of people and seals at the Children's Pool beach in La Jolla.

Opposing sides in the dispute have set up tables, large informational signs and stacks of handout literature that they believe bolsters their cases. Both sides are armed with cameras.

Each will tell tales on the other. Each feels the other is misguided and selfish.

The pro-seal group has pictures and videos that they say show seals being harassed or injured. The divers have information about how the pro-seals attorney was once cited for using a stun gun and sentenced to anger management classes.

To Valli, the Children's Pool is the only seal rookery on the mainland south of Santa Barbara County. To Pierce, it's where spear fishermen for decades entered the ocean to hunt lobsters and white sea bass and where families taught their children to swim.

The dispute over whether seals or humans should have priority at the Children's Pool has flared since the seals, for reasons unknown, appeared en masse, abandoning their historic haunts on the large rocks just offshore.

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