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Are sea lions in La Jolla attracting more sharks to the area?

Issue of sea lions at La Jolla Cove and whether or not they are bringing more great white sharks to San Diego beaches.

SAN DIEGO — A dead sea lion washed ashore Sunday near La Jolla Shores where people gathered around it, taking pictures of what looked like possible shark bite marks, though the cause of the wounds is still undetermined and they could’ve also been caused by a boat propeller. 

“There was a sea lion that was clearly hit by a large white shark, 18-inch diameter bite marks,” said Kurt Hoffman, a native San Diegan and waterman for 50 years. “It was clearly the underside of the animal, a circular wound pattern.” 

Hoffman thinks the presence of the sea lion colony near La Jolla Cove is attracting more white sharks to the area, which worries some local swimmers. 

“I’m very easy to mistake for a sea lion or a pinniped, I’m swimming there on the surface, so I get concerned,” said John Shannon, an avid swimmer. 

Volunteers with the Sierra Club Seal Society have seen a few shark bites on sea lions throughout the season, on average, though they point out that most of the white sharks off the coast of San Diego are juveniles. 

“While they’re nine feet long and they’re scary to us, they do not eat mammals yet, so they do not eat sea lions yet,” said Robyn Davidoff, Chair of Sierra Club Seal Society. “When they get older, they will go out to deeper water where they will eat marine mammals out at the Channel Islands where there are a lot of sea lions.” 

Hoffman has long been raising concerns about the sea lion rookery at Point La Jolla, especially after the city decided to close public access to the stairs during pupping season from May 1 to October 31, while also posting park rangers in the area. 

“The kelp and the animals that are part of this have developed and grown over hundreds of years without hundreds of sea lions around them,” said Hoffman.  “And now we have a changed environment with up to 1,000 sea lions and soon to be 1,500 sea lions.” 

Davidoff disagrees with Hoffman’s estimation of the number of sea lions living in the La Jolla Cove area and says her organization keeps count. 

“Our findings are that the sea lion population is stable at about 150 resident sea lions year-round,” said Davidoff. “It does swell a little bit during the summer, during the mating season, but that’s a short period of time.” 

Hoffman has requested that the city conduct an Environmental Impact Report on the sea lion colony and how they may be affecting the local ecosystems. 

“As we continue to allow this colony to expand and take more area, it’s natural to study what’s happening with the kelp, the fish, the sea urchins, all the animals that have only recently been impacted by the sea lion colony,” said Hoffman. 

Up to this point, the City has not conducted an EIR to study the impacts of the sea lion rookery. 

“Each time the city has looked at it, as well as the California Coastal Commission, and denied that it’s even necessary,” said Davidoff. 

As the debate over sea lions continues, volunteers with the Sierra Club Seal Society will continue to advocate for what they say is a beautiful example of nature in our own backyard. 

“The sea lion rookery that we have here,” said Davidoff. “While it’s in an urban environment, it is the only one on the west coast of California where people can come and see them raising their young, giving birth, mating, all for free, and there’s great viewing from the sidewalk.”

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