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Seals-vs.-people dispute at La Jolla beach flares up again

December 17, 2011 |  1:04 pm

The long-running controversy pitting harbor seals vs. people at the Children's Pool beach in La Jolla has flared anew.

The city of San Diego this week put up a rope barrier at the beach to protect the seals during their pupping season, which lasts from mid-December through May.

But a group that believes the beach belongs to people rather than marine mammals then set up an open-sided tent inside the barrier as a show of defiance.

That caused the pro-seal faction to organize a rally Saturday to call attention to what they believe is illegal harassment of a federally protected species.

San Diego police will be at the beach to keep the two sides apart. The seals have the option to swim into the ocean if they prefer to avoid the hassle.

Now in its second decade, the controversy pits a federal court ruling (favoring seals) against a state court ruling (calling for enforcement of a 1931 deed that declared the beach for the use of children).

Two years ago, the state Legislature, at the request of the San Diego City Council, sought to end the legal standoff by amending the deed to allow the council to declare the beach a marine sanctuary. The governor agreed.

The council was exhausted by the political controversy and the legal bills of more than $1 million. The city's application to put up a permanent rope barrier is now pending before the California Coastal Commission.

The seals arrived in the 1990s and have created a rookery. That disturbed many San Diegans, who have fond memories of teaching their children to swim in the tranquil water created by the breakwater, a gift from a San Diego philanthropist.


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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Pro-seal activist Summer Dunsmore at the Children's Pool beach in La Jolla in 2009. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times