Humans harassing, taking selfies with sea lions prompts San Diego to close popular beaches

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified an organization. Carol Toye represents the Sierra Club Seal Society of San Diego.

A San Diego rookery will no longer be open to the public after city council members voted this week to close it due to people harassing the animals and taking selfies with them.

City council members voted 8-0 in support of the change at Monday’s city council meeting.

Cherlyn Cac, a senior planner with the city’s parks and recreation department, spoke at the meeting and thanked them for steps they took last May to add a seasonal closure to both Point La Jolla and nearby Boomer Beach.

The seasonal closure last May came after reports of harassment and “problematic interactions” between humans and sea lions in the area.

People had been trying to touch the sea lions, take selfies with them and get close to them, she said, adding that it’s “potentially dangerous” for both people and the animals.

Last year’s closure also prohibited dogs and people from entering the closure area, she said. The closure area also included signs and barriers, and park rangers were on-site as well.

This year-round closure comes after months of proposals to do so.

With this new permit, the area will be closed year-round, there will be a gate in place to secure the closure area, signs will be posted and fireworks will be prohibited, Cac said.

Sea lions at Point La Jolla in San Diego.
Sea lions at Point La Jolla in San Diego.

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Previous attempts to protect sea lions have had ‘limited success’

Multiple speakers spoke at the meeting to support the year-round closure, including Carol Toye, who represents the Sierra Club Seal Society of San Diego and lives in La Jolla.

What makes La Jolla so special is the fact that it’s the only sea lion rookery on the California mainland, she said.

Rookeries are sites sea lions use for mating, giving birth and resting, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Such areas are most frequented during mating season between May and August, NOAA Fisheries said.

But according to Toye, females and juvenile sea lions tend to stay in the area all year.

She added that previous attempts to control human activity in the area have had “limited success.”

“People will often try and get selfies and mostly, we’ll find that people will put their children close to the animals,” Toye said. “These are up to 800-pound animals.”

But when rangers are present, sea lion harassment is nonexistent, Toye said.

“Our survey that we conducted in 2022 showed that over 90% of visitors coming to the area were satisfied viewing from the wall,” she said. “Body surfers and spear fisherman have been successfully able to access the ocean and rangers are able to issue citations based on a breach of municipal code.”

Sea lions at Point La Jolla in San Diego. In September 2023, San Diego's city council voted to close the sea lions' mating area to the public due to people harassing the animals, getting too close to them and harassing them.
Sea lions at Point La Jolla in San Diego. In September 2023, San Diego's city council voted to close the sea lions' mating area to the public due to people harassing the animals, getting too close to them and harassing them.

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'Too many people are touching the babies'

Another speaker said the sea lions in the area are “tormented by people.” The speaker suggested having people on-site who can educate people like Toye did at the city council meeting.

Local Girl Scouts – Troop 4372 – also spoke via video to protect the seals as part of a community project.

“Too many people are touching the babies,” said one girl in the video. “The mom seal could hurt the human because she was scared and trying to protect her baby.”

Another member of the troop warned that if humans touch seal pups, their mothers could abandon them, so stay away, she said.

Bob Evans, president of the nonprofit La Jolla Parks & Beaches, spoke out against the year-round closure, adding that they oppose “any beach access closure.”

“Like everyone, we want to see protections for sea lions and all land and marine life,” he said. “But to develop a proper long-term coastline management plan, we need an (environmental impact report), which is environmentally based on facts and not a plan forced from large single-agenda lobbying groups and their very one-sided narratives.”

He said sea lions have negative impacts on water quality and other marine species.

“We’re asking for the council’s help,” he said, asking that city council vote but ask for the creation of an  environmental impact report and create a “long-term urban park and wildlife management strategy that works for everyone.”

Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, who represents district 5, spoke before the vote, asked a few questions for clarification, wondering whether people will still be able to swim in the area.

They will still be able to swim; they just can’t interact with the sea lions, Cac from parks and recreation confirmed.

“Given … that there still will be access to the beach for folks who do want to use it for the normal swimming activities, not to harass sea lions and poke at them and take selfies … I will support this item today,” said von Wilpert.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: San Diego sea lions beach closed to humans after selfies, harassment