Seals and Sentimentality: an Immodest, Unpopular Proposal for Children’s Pool

English: Aerial view of the Children's Pool in...
English: Aerial view of the Children’s Pool in La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For years, I have watched a debate rage over the La Jolla Children’s Pool beach and the seals there. Watched as our city leaders, too scared by both sides, apparently, do basically nothing to fix the problem. Instead, they apply tiny Band-aids to staunch a wound that needs serious stitches.

I’ve gone up there and looked at the seals. Seals are cute. No doubt about it. But, the way things are working now…are not working.

So let me take a stab at this problem and venture where our illustrious leaders have not.


First, some background. San Diego’s Childrens pool has long been the subject of an acrimonious battle over the seals there. Philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps (also founder of Scripps College, woot!) had a sort of sea wall put up in La Jolla in 1931, to create a calm pool for children to swim in.

Over time, (the U-T says since the late 1990s) seals discovered this spot and started hanging out there, particularly during pupping season. Humans are not allowed to harass the seals, so somebody (not sure if it was originally the city) put up a rope barrier around the seals.

A couple of years ago, the city elected to have a “shared use” policy, figuring the seals would take off if there were people using the beach, and also figuring it was a neutral stance that pleased nobody. They took down the rope. The seals did not leave.

Two groups: seal lovers and beach lovers, regularly went down there and got into fights, like completely reasonable adults and totally civilized members of an organized society, spitting on each other, shouting at small children, and all sorts of lovely behavior that would make their mothers weep.

In 2010, after years of no plan, the city decided to make the beach off limits during pupping season, and assigned a city ranger to hang out there in 2011, there were 48 calls for police service to the beach.

The city ranger asked to please get him the hell out of there and got a transfer.

Current Solution

On Wednesday of last week, the California Coastal Commission voted to approve a year-round rope for a trial period of three years. However, they acknowledged this is not a permanent solution.

From La Jolla Patch:

Commissioner William Burke said he voted for the year-round rope despite the fact that he does not believe a single person thinks the rope is the solution to the beach access and marine mammal protection debate at the Children’s Pool. “I am going to vote going for the rope, but I am going to tell you this, as long as I am here I am never going to vote for one improvement on that (sea)wall because that wall is the problem,” he said. It has caused a division in your community. Good people on both sides are not acting like it. The seals are going to be fine; it is the people that have the problem.”

Also, the city has From the Union-Tribune:

On Wednesday, some commissioners publicly questioned whether city officials had done enough to look at management options at the site and come up with creative solutions.

They urged the city to assess a plan being touted by San Diego lifeguards to use movable boulders instead of a rope to segment the beach — though they noted that any such strategy would come with its own regulatory complications.

Talking Through the Problem

1. We have to ask ourselves if seals are more important than other species. What about the stingrays? There are lots of stingrays on La Jolla beaches, stinging beachgoers. 41 people were stung on WEDNESDAY ALONE, primarily in La Jolla. Why not keep the humans off of the stingray habitat, i.e. the beach?

  • And if seals are more important, why? Because they’re mammals? Cuter than stingrays?

My thesis is that seals are not any more important than other creatures in the ocean eco-system.

2. The Children’s Pool cannot be used as a joint-use beach.

  • It’s too contaminated by seal feces for safe swimming. This Coast Keeper map advises which beaches are dirty and Children’s Pool is always on it.
  • The seals won’t move even if humans are on the beach. Why would they? A seal could totally take you in a fight. Silly human.
  • Stupid humans try to touch the seals anyway, which is a bad idea and illegal.
  • Enforcement of various idiots  takes way too much law enforcement time/money.

3. There is a protected marine preserve near this beach. This means spear-fishers can’t fish out of the preserve to raise the fish numbers and keep the ecosystem intact. Divers can go look, but not touch.

  • This is delicious eating for the seals, who, oddly, refuse to get fishing licenses or adhere to the law. Why would they leave when there is a calm beach and ready fish access?

4. Seals eat fish. Sharks eat seals.

  • If you were a shark, why wouldn’t you come down to La Jolla? For some reason, this connection seems to surprise a lot of people. That is how nature works!

5. The wall is not well-executed.

  • If we are going to change the shoreline, why not make the wall all the way across, like Lydgate Park in Kauai, Hawaii, for instance?
  • The alternative plan floated by the lifeguards to have “movable boulders” is not a good solution, either.


It seems to me the WALL is the problem. The wall has thrown the eco-system out of whack.

If you want:

  • Clean ocean water
  • No shark-eating of swimmers
  • A balanced eco-system

Then tear down the wall!

Apparently this idea is so unpopular nobody has thought of it.

Seals and Sentimentality

Sure, people have fond memories of coming down to the Children’s Pool (that’s why there was 6 hours of testimony at the CA Coastal Commission meeting) with Grandpa and their friends and having him bark at the seals and causing great embarrassment which is retold forever.

But should sentimentality dictate how we manage the beach?

What if a bunch of people have fond memories of their Grandpa throwing plastic bags into the ocean and pretending they were jellyfish? Does that mean you should keep on throwing plastic bags into the ocean?

The wall should not be there at all.  It’s unnatural. Some people act like we have to keep the wall because Ellen Browning Scripps put it there, dammit! As if it’s part of the U.S. Constitution or something. Well, if she wants to keep the wall, let her zombie-fy herself and show up at the City Council meeting in favor of it. I’m pretty sure Scripps did not foresee people behaving so abominably over it.

If kids can’t handle the ocean after the wall is down, they can go to La Jolla Shores. Even my kids can swim there, paddle around in the waves. Or La Jolla Cove, which is pretty darn calm for a beach. Or Ocean Beach. I didn’t learn how to swim at Children’s Pool, but I did learn about riptides from swimming in Coronado at North Island, the beach at the Naval Base. Or, they don’t have to go in at all.

If you want to spearfish and you find the currents too rough around everyplace but the Children’s Pool, well, maybe you shouldn’t be spearfishing. In Hawaii you could spearfish anywhere– no fishing license required– and my husband dove in off waves banging off lava rocks. Just go to a different beach!

The Power of Mother Nature

I am a strong believer in the power of Mother Nature. We should have a hands-off approach to both the seals and to trying to change this place into something it’s not. Let’s work with how the earth created the beach, rather than trying to duke it out over two versions of man-made disaster.

I predict nothing will happen until a tourist gets eaten by a shark ala Jaws, then sues the city for more money we don’t have for taking a do-nothing stance. Of course, by that time, everyone currently in power at City Hall will be out, so why should they worry?


English: Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, ...
English: Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, August 2006. Shot with Nikon D70s in Ikelite housing, in natural light. Animal estimated at 11-12 feet (3.3 to 3.6 m) in length, age unknown. Français : Photographie d’un Grand requin blanc (Carcharodon carcharias) de 3,5 mètres environ, prise à l’île Gadalupe en août 2006. Matériel : Nikon D70s dans un caisson étanche Ikelite. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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