The SeaWorld Myth

A myth about the origin of the Casa Beach harbor seal colony has been widely circulated.  The allegation is that these seals originally came to this location only as a result of SeaWorld’s marine mammal rescue operations:

This sign shown above would be funny if it weren’t misrepresented as fact. The claims made on the sign are simply not true.

To begin with, documentation of the presence of seals at Casa Beach dates back to the 1880’s. Below is a map which shows that in January of 1887, the area currently known as Casa Beach was called Seal Point and Seal Point Rock. SeaWorld did not open its San Diego facility until 1964, over 75 years later.  Thus, the harbor seals had already been living here for a minimum of 77 years before SeaWorld even existed.

During the period 1887 – 1972, the Pacific Harbor Seal population steadily plummeted due to the ubiquitous hunting of seals, including for bounty.

After the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, which outlawed the hunting of seals and other marine mammals, the population of harbor seals along both coasts of the United States began to steadily increase. As noted above, while harbor seals historically occupied the offshore rocks in La Jolla, they were not consistently observed on the mainland at Casa Beach until the early 1990’s. By 1995, harbor seals were using Casa Beach daily. (Yochem and Stewart, 1998). This time period coincides with an observed increase of the harbor seal population off California. With its sloping, sandy beach that is north-facing and generally protected from tidal influence and high waves, Casa Beach provides ideal habitat for harbor seals. There is absolutely no evidence that human intervention created this colony, whether via the release of rehabilitated seals or by any other means (McInnis, 2012).

During the 1990’s, SeaWorld began rescuing abandoned, injured and sick seals under an agreement with NOAA. None of the seals released by SeaWorld was ever bred in captivity. You can click here to see the detailed listing of strandings (stranding = a seal that was rescued by SeaWorld) and releases. Here is the same information, sorted by release location, and here it is sorted by the location from which the injured seal was picked up. This information is official NOAA data which was obtained on March 1, 2013 through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

During the 22-year period from 1990 to 2012, SeaWorld picked up 65 sick or injured seals from the La Jolla area. During this same 22-year period, SeaWorld released a total of 63 rehabilitated seals in the La Jolla area. Claims that SeaWorld magically produced 120 seals out of thin air and then released them to colonize Casa Beach are simply not true. The facts show clearly that there was no net increase in the number of harbor seals in the La Jolla area because of SeaWorld’s rescue program.