Protected Sea Lions Are Being Harassed In California And Nothing Is Being Done To Help

20/4/2018

Boomer beach in La Jolla, San Diego, California, has always been a paradise for animals and people alike.

Boomer Beach in La Jolla, California. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And yet, for certain residents, the beach is no longer a safe place to rest and relax.In recent years, the rise of social media and the popularity of selfies has made life unbearable for the sea lions whose natural habitat and home has always been La Jolla.As recently reported by The Dodo, human visitors to the California beach constantly harass the local sea lions, despite the fact that they are protected by federal law.In a video (since removed from Facebook) filmed by Andrea A. Hahn, beach-goers are shown getting very close to sea lions and squirting them with water, as well as chasing them, taking selfies with them and even reaching out to touch them.All of this takes place in a single day.

Source: Andrea A. HahnThe consequences are serious; it's not simply a case of the sea lions being irritated by the unwanted attention.Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, told The Dodo:

It’s extremely stressful for them, and there have been numerous pups who have died as a result. Barriers should be put up to keep the public from approaching them. And if anybody goes over those barriers, they should be charged.

The sea lions harassed on the beach are mostly young puppies, who are there to rest and cannot defend themselves as an adult seal might.The behaviour of beach-goers means that what should be a safe environment for them to rest in is actually an incredibly stressful and dangerous place for them to be.Sea lions and other marine mammals are protected by the U.S Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).This outlaws hunting, feeding, capturing or killing marine mammals such as whales, sea otters and sea lions.

Source: Andrea A. HahnBut signs on the beach which detail this law are ignored by visitors.And the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the organisation responsibile for enforcing the MMPA, is doing little to protect the sea lions.Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), believes the NMFS should be doing more to protect the animals it's charged with (as well as the people who are endangering themselves without realising).Rose told The Dodo:

If NMFS wanted to, they could ticket everyone who approaches these animals too closely for selfies, for what is called ‘Level B harassment. In addition, it’s a hazard for the people too (which NMFS isn’t really responsible for, but should work to avoid). People have been bitten when they get too close — you see in the video a couple of instances where an animal starts to charge someone, but without much energy, as these are all young animals (not dominant adults) and they are there to rest, so they don’t have a lot of energy to defend their ‘personal space.’

Signs such as these around Boomer Beach have little impact. Source: Andrea A. Hahn

Not everyone is so defensive of the sea lions.A group called Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement is campaigning to remove the sea lions from their natural habitat, on the grounds that the animals contaminate the area and damage local businesses with their smell.Naomi Rose told The Dodo:

The local enforcement arm of the agency feels more sympathy for the business owners along this area of beach (who find the constant barking and smell of the animals annoying) than for the animals being harassed. The business owners would like to see the animals harassed right off the beach, but so far that hasn’t happened.

If you also believe that the sea lions should be protected rather than harassed and forcibly removed from their natural habitat, you cancontact the NMFS and urge them to enforce the MMPA.