Tourists line up by La Jolla Cove to watch king tide waves and sea lions. Photo by Chris Stone

The Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter called upon Mayor Todd Gloria Tuesday to temporarily close the sea lion rookery at Pt. La Jolla, citing reports of large crowds disrupting the local sea lion population and contributing to the death of a sea lion pup earlier this year.

The Sierra Club and its Seal Society wrote in a letter to Gloria that, with the beginning of the sea lion pupping season this month, more needs to be done to protect the animals that regularly gather in La Jolla from an ever intrusive public.

The organizations pointed to two recent incidents they say highlight a pressing need to close access to the rookery: the “violent death” of a young sea lion pup named Ella “at the hands of visitors trying to get a photo” and serious injuries they allege were inflicted upon a pregnant sea lion.

The Sierra Club says pupping season — which lasts through Oct. 31 — is a vulnerable time for newborn pups and their mothers, as pups cannot swim well for the first few months of their lives and are at risk of drowning if people are in their way.

Earlier this month, City Councilman Joe LaCava issued a statement in which he called for “responsible tourism” when guests come to La Jolla to view the sea lions.

“There are few places where you can be on dry land and watch the seals and sea lions up close in their natural state. Being this close has its advantages; it’s a memorable experience for children and adults alike. However, we also have to remember that seals and sea lions are wild animals that deserve their space and our respect,” LaCava said.

San Diego’s Parks and Recreation Department director, Andy Field, joined LaCava in his call to keep the sea lion population safe and said the city was installing signs and taking other steps to educate the public during pupping season.

“Park rangers and city partners will be actively engaging and educating the public about the sea lion population, and the additional signage will serve as another reminder to keep a safe distance and not to disturb these wonderful animals,” Field said.

But the Sierra Club said the signs and limited number of park rangers staffed in the area on weekends are not enough to ensure the animals’ safety, especially with the summer season approaching and large crowds expected at San Diego’s beaches.

“Unfortunately, the city of San Diego and the Parks and Recreation Department have not put enough resources into controlling the crowds and preventing harassment of mothers and pups. With few signs to warn visitors to view the sea lions from a safe distance and with intermittent Park Ranger oversight, the situation has become critical,” Seal Society Docent Robyn Davidoff said. “The viewing area from the adjacent wall would remain open and unobstructed, providing unlimited opportunities for the public to experience this natural wonder and providing the necessary protection for the sea lions.”

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