Organizational Mission, History, and Accomplishments
The mission of the Seal Conservancy is to preserve and protect the La Jolla harbor seal rookery for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children, and for the ecological, scientific, historic, and scenic benefits to all.
The Seal Conservancy (formerly La Jolla Friends of the Seals) was formed in 1999. The organization was recognized as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in a determination letter issued in February 2000, and updated July 2014 to reflect our name change.
The Seal Conservancy is dedicated to educating the public about the La Jolla Harbor Seal Rookery. Over the past 20 years, we have educated hundreds of thousands of visitors to Casa Beach about the La Jolla harbor seal rookery, sharing viewing tips, harbor seal facts, and helping visitors spot the births that take place every February at Casa Beach.
Many visitors to Casa Beach come with local residents who want to show their guests this natural attraction in La Jolla.
The Seal Conservancy has been successful in advocating for greater protection for the La Jolla Seals.
On July 11, 2012 the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to allow the City of San Diego to install a 152‐foot rope as a viewing guideline to protect seals from people, and people from seals. The Ranger’s signs on the posts that support the rope recommend maintaining a distance of 50 feet from the seals, a guideline from NOAA, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, for this small beach.
One of the requirements of the Coastal Commission’s July 2012 decision was that detailed data of seal counts at Casa Beach be collected, to be submitted annually for review. On January 25, 2013, the Seal Conservancy partnered with the Wan Conservancy and the City of San Diego in launching the La Jolla Seal Cam, a StreamCam HD Robotic live streaming webcam. The Seal Cam was operated 24/7 by human observers. This allowed for capturing live births night and day on the sand for viewers all over the world. In fact, the Seal Cam’s live stream was viewed 183,000 times from 58 different countries during its 6 months of operation. The Seal Cam ceased operation on August 5, 2013 due in large part to lack of funding.
On February 24, 2014 the San Diego City Council voted 6‐3 in favor of winter beach closure at Casa Beach (from December 15 – May 15 annually) to protect the mother seals and their pups from human disturbance during their vulnerable pupping and nursing period. This decision was ratified unanimously by the California Coastal Commission on August 14, 2014. The California Coastal Commission Staff Report referenced the Seal Conservancy’s census books and the Seal Cam seal counts as evidence in support of the need for winter pupping season closure of the beach. One of the requirements in the ruling by the Coastal Commission was that detailed data of seal counts at Casa Beach be collected and submitted annually for review.
The organized presentations by the Seal Conservancy ‐‐ which included video that was recorded by the Seal Cam, such as births, first swims, flushes, and incidents of human harassment ‐‐ have been instrumental in helping to secure these protections for the Seals.
The Seal Conservancy has been documenting seal counts at Casa Beach since September of 2012. We have published four volumes of harbor seal census data and research about the Casa Beach rookery, available on our web site.
In May of 2016, the annual Pupping Season Closure of Casa Beach from December 15 through May 15 was struck down by a single Orange County judge. The Seal Conservancy was instrumental in immediately rallying seal supporters all over the world to contact the San Diego City Council, urging the City Council to appeal this bad decision against the pupping season closure. Hundreds of our supporters wrote letters and emails, and dozens came in person to the City Council meeting in June 2016, during which the issue of whether or not to appeal the ruling against the seasonal closure was on the agenda. The City Council heard us loud and clear, voting 7-1 to direct the City Attorney to immediately file an appeal of the decision that banned closing Casa Beach during pupping season.
The Seal Conservancy continued to work behind the scenes to support the City of San Diego in its appeal of the ruling against the seasonal closure of Casa Beach. In December 2016, veterinarian and marine mammal expert, Dr. Heather Rally, submitted a declaration to the Appellate Judicial Panel in support of the City’s request to allow the beach to close during pupping season while the appeal was being considered. The City’s request was granted by a unanimous vote on February 2, 2017; thus, the seasonal closure was allowed to remain in effect until a decision was reached on the City’s appeal of the original judgment.
In August of 2017, the Seal Conservancy filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the City’s appeal.
On June 7, 2018, a three-judge appellate panel voted unanimously to reverse the May 2016 Orange County Superior Court decision which would have ended the annual pupping season beach closure. As a result, the City of San Diego will be able to continue the hugely successful policy of closing Casa Beach during the harbor seal pupping season from December 15 to May 15 annually.
The Seal Conservancy is now focused on the 2019 renewals of the Coastal Development Permits which authorize the 5-month winter closure of Casa Beach during the harbor seal pupping season, as well as the installation of the guideline viewing rope during the seven non-pupping-season months. Seal supporters can help maintain these protections in the future by signing the petitions on our home page, and attending the California Coastal Commission meeting in San Diego, tentatively scheduled for May of 2019.