There is something extraordinary about seeing wild animals in their natural habitats, especially marine mammals. Well, what if I told you that over at La Jolla, there are two designated pinniped rookeries near each other? Yes! A Pacific harbor seal rookery is located at Casa Beach/ Children’s Pool, and a California sea lion rookery is found at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach. Have you ever seen California sea lions up close before?
Both rookeries are very close to each other and are found down parallel to Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Today, I will be only concentrating on what we saw over at the newly closed to the public- California sea lion rookery.
Where Are The California Sea Lions in La Jolla?
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla cove sits adjacent to Point La Jolla, so it is not uncommon to see a couple of California sea lions hanging out on the rocks in the cove.
On this day, it was quite unusual for this sea lion to swim onto a crowded beach and pose on a rock, but maybe not.
You would think that some sea lions are becoming less afraid of humans, seeing that human smells and sounds constantly surround them.
Point La Jolla
Here are the stairs leading down to Point La Jolla that are to be remained closed until September 15.
Boomer Beach got its name because the water is pretty rough over here. Since the closure, the sea lions have been enjoying the beach all to themselves.
You will find Seal Rock just right offshore of Shell Beach, just north of Children’s Pool, where all Pacific harbor seals hang out.
What I find peculiar is that the two species do not interact very much at all. I think I have only ever seen a California sea lion on the sand over at the Children’s Pool just one time. It appears that the two have set their respected territories and boundaries.
So What’s Going on Over at Point La Jolla?
On August 3rd, the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department (which deals with coastal development permits) issued an emergency permit to close Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach to public access until September 15.
Working with the California Coastal Commission, the city of San Diego decided it would be a good idea to close off this section of the coast to allow the mothers and pups a bit of peace. The dramatic and emergency closure is due to the repeated harassment of several California sea lions.
San Diego city Development Services Department authorized the emergency closure coastal development permit (CDP). Still, in the future, when applying for a new CDP, the public will be allowed more input into future decisions.
Point La Jolla California Sea Lion Rookery
In 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries(NOAA) officially designated Point La Jolla as a California sea lion rookery.
A rookery, by definition, is a breeding colony that produces at least 50 pups per season. Nowhere else in Southern California are you able to see California sea lions and their pups up close.
There is a long history of the public getting way too close to these majestic creatures. Unfortunately, common sense seems to go away once they cross the small wall which separates Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach or walking down the staircase to the rocks.
Many do take the warning sign seriously, but unfortunately, a substantial percentage of people do not.
Members of Sierra Club Seal Society wrote a letter to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria asking to close the La Jolla sea lion rookery at the beginning of their pupping season (June), demanding action to be taken after the death of a pup.
On May 26, a group started harassing by poking and prodding a one-year-old sea lion with a stick. The small sea lion was pushed into a rock preventing any escape. Unfortunately, it was found the next morning dead with a broken spine.
Here is an example of just how close these people are in the photo below.
Volunteers of the Sierra Club have a kiosk near the sea lions and have sounded the alarm for years. They do give warnings and try to educate the public.
Still, as some La Jolla residents point out, these volunteers are too far away from the sea lions to deter the inquisitive general public from keeping their distance away from the creatures.
There used to be Rangers posted here full-time in the past, but staffing has been a problem due to the pandemic.
So What Happens on September 15th?
As the deadline for the closure gets closer, the city is looking into future Point La Jolla closures during the pupping season.
It has been reported that it has been a great success separating curious onlookers from the rookery. Interactions have been very low, so future closures look promising.
After September 15th, many of the warning signs will come down, and access to the area will be open again.
In the meantime, there will be marked-up enforcement with additional Rangers present to keep an eye on the situation.
The Importance of the Marine Mammal Protection Act
It is imperative to note that all marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
The Act was amended in 1994 to include ‘harassment as a prohibited activity. “Harassment is any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to:
- injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment)
- disturb a marine mammal or a marine mammal stock in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or sheltering (Level B harassment).”
Below, I have provided you with several reminders the next time you check out any marine mammal on the coast.
Guidelines for Viewing According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act
- No feeding or attempting to feed because it is harmful and illegal. They have mighty jaws that can do a lot of damage. When you get too close to a wild animal, you stress them out, and they may act unpredictably.
- Stay at least 50 yards or half a football field away- the farther, the better.
- Move away if you see any sign of agitation. Stress may cause the mother to abandon her pup.
- You are too close if they are starting to stare, fidget, or flee.
- It is illegal to harass in ways that disrupt behavioral patterns, such as resting, breeding, and nursing.
The bottom line is to stay back as far as possible.
California Sea Lions of Point La Jolla- August 17
So what did I see?
First of all, the primary thing I noticed when I first arrived was that there were sea lions on the beach! Usually, they would stay on the rocks, making sure that no one could approach them.
I was thrilled to see them on the beach and playing in the water!
The viewing was perfect from the sidewalk up above the beach. I can not tell you enough just how wonderful it was to not see people next to the animals.
We are so very fortunate in San Diego to have such a wonderful spot for the California sea lion to utilize among the 46,000 in La Jolla.
Now, don’t you think that this environment looks so much healthier without all of the people standing around?
Down below, I have gone more in detail about a few characteristics of the California sea lion.
A Few California Sea Lion Facts
The California sea lion is native to the shallow waters of the West Coast of North America or, in other words, the eastern North Pacific Ocean. They range from all the way up in Alaska down to the coast of central Mexico. All along the west coast, you will see them hauled out on buoys, wharves, docks, and jetties.
Belonging to the Family Otariidea, or the ‘eared seals,’ they differ from true seals by having external ear flaps and proportionately larger foreflippers and pectoral muscles, which allows for more agile movements on land.
Scientific Name– Zalophus californianus
Weight– Females (240 lbs), Males (700 lbs)
Length– Females (6 ft), Males (7.5ft)
Life Span– 20 to 30 years
Pupping Season– June 1 to October 31
Population- In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries(NOAA) estimated that the population on the west coast to be over 300,000.
- Adult females and juveniles are blonde to tan in color with a slender body
- Females reach sexual maturity at age 3
- nurse their pups for a year
- 200 to 300 pounds
- up to 6 feet in length
- Females reach sexual maturity at age 3
- Adult males are larger and are darker in color (dark brown to black)
- 600 to 850 pounds
- up to 7.5 feet in length
- thicker necks, protruding sagittal crest
- Pups are dark brown when born and weigh about 16 pounds. At around 4 or 5 months, the pups molt the darker color and become more blonde or silver.
Diet and Behavior
- Feed mostly offshore in coastal areas of a variety of prey, such as; mackerel, rockfish, sardines, squid, anchovies. They are also a nuisance to anglers’ fishing lines, as they are a reputation for stealing fish.
- They are very social animals, but during the breeding season, males will aggressively defend their territories, and also, the females will fight other females to protect their pups.
- California sea lions bark similar to dogs as a form of communication. Each pup has a unique vocalization as well as a distinct scent recognized by its mother.
- They are very wary of humans and will run away if they see or smell people.
- Their primary breeding range starts at the Channel Islands in Southern California, down to central Mexico.
- NOAA Fisheries has distinguished three separate stock populations based on where their rookeries are located-
- United States (Canada to US/Mexico border)
- western Baja California
- Gulf California
- Males are polyamorous with up to 14 females and defends their territory vigorously
- Sea lions reach sexual maturity at age 4 to 5 but mature socially much later
- males start establishing territories at age 9 to 12 years
- breeding season starts in late June to early August, with most pups being born from May to June
- Females can mate again three to four weeks after giving birth
- The mama will nurse for 1 to 2 days and then abandon the pup to go out to sea to feed for 2 to 3 days and then return to nurse for several days. This pattern is repeated for up to a year until the pup is weaned.
- pups can not swim until 2 months
- Killer whales and great white sharks
Stay Far Away From The Pups!
I took the video above just recently. This behavior would never happen with humans standing around.
As mentioned up above, each pup has a distinct scent. If you were to touch it, the scent could confuse the mother, and she would abandon the pup.
If you would approach the lone pup and the mother just so happens to be offshore watching, she might not feel safe to return, thus abandoning the pup.
So I hope you enjoyed the California sea lions of La Jolla!
Down below are a couple of posts that I have done on this spectacular city of La Jolla,
Please have a look!
Until next time!
Helpful Posts for La Jolla
- Let’s Take a La Jolla Coast Walk!
- La Jolla Coast Walk Trail-Let’s Go!
- Showcasing the Best Beaches of La Jolla
- Best San Diego Birding Hotspots
- San Diego Shark Sightings
- Sea Caves at La Jolla Underwater Park
- Sierra Club Calls on San Diego Mayor to Close La Jolla Sea-Lion Rookery to Public
- Calls for action after sea lion is reportedly killed on beach in La Jolla
- San Diego Moves to Protect Sea Lions at La Jolla Point
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration US Department of Commerce
- NOAA-Laws and Policies: Marine Mammal Protection Act
- The Marine Mammal Center-California Sea Lion
- San Diego to launch permit process for future Point La Jolla closures during sea lion pupping season
I have always had a deep-seated passion for the Ocean Environment which ultimately led me to receive a degree in Marine Biology. Living in the San Diego area for over 30 years, I have extensively explored the 70 miles of San Diego’s coastline, and I am here to share! Please use my website to your advantage and have a look around at all the wonders that the beaches of San Diego can offer you!