No more sea lion selfies: Tourists banned from two San Diego beaches


About 15 miles north of downtown San Diego, there’s a rugged, rocky peninsula where sea lions swim and relax ashore. Within a matter of months, tourists will be banned from the sand.

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Monday to close public access to Point La Jolla and nearby Boomer Beach, a measure intended to protect the blubbery mammals from harassment.

City officials said the closures could go into effect as early as November. Visitors will still be able to watch the sea lions from a boardwalk viewing area.

Point La Jolla is regarded as one of California’s main sea lion rookeries, where they mate and give birth on land.

Despite federal law prohibiting direct contact with sea lions within a 50-foot radius, local officials said enforcement has become increasingly difficult over the years. More visitors have been seen hopping the area’s three-foot cement barrier to make direct contact with the sea lions, with reports of children throwing rocks or people petting the sea lions. There have also been reports of sea lions charging at beachgoers in recent months.

Richard Miller, who serves as executive director of the Seal Society of San Diego, said the decision is long overdue and speaks volumes to the etiquette tourists and visitors should follow to keep themselves and wildlife safe.

“It just exploded exponentially — the number of people who have begun showing up and all over the world,” Miller said. “It’s absolutely amazing, but can be very difficult to control large crowds because, once people see one person go down to the rocky area, they all think they can go down, regardless of signage telling people to stay away.”

A rise in humans boldly approaching animals has been seen across various parks and tourist destination, such as Yellowstone National Park, where there have been increased reports of individuals touching wild bison and other animals.

San Diego City Council member Joe LaCava, who represents the La Jolla community, said in a statement that Monday’s vote allows visitors to enjoy La Jolla’s beaches, shops and tourist attractions, all while watching the sea lions from a safe distance.

“People come from around the world to marvel at San Diego’s coastline and Point La Jolla gives them a close-up view that is unique to San Diego,” he said. “Monday’s vote maintains that experience for visitors and protects wildlife in its environment.”

A local’s guide to San Diego

This decision has been in discussion for the last two years, with environmental and animal rights advocates pushing for the area’s closure to the public.

Many have warned coming into direct contact with sea lions can be dangerous for both humans and the animals alike, especially during sea lion pupping season, between May and October.

Phillip Musegaas, the executive director for the San Diego Coastkeeper, said it’s an important time for adult sea lions to raise and bond with their pups, and human interaction could result in aggressive behavior from the animals or parents abandoning their young.

A pair of sea lions chased after a large group of people at an ecological reserve in San Diego on July 8. (Video: Charlianne Yeyna / Amazing Animals+ / TMX)

There have been growing number of incidents involving direct contact between sea lions and humans, Musegaas said. He said he’s personally witnessed families placing their children next to sea lions for photos or trying to touch them, sometimes on a daily basis.

Local officials also hoped to restrict access to the area’s rocky terrain, protecting visitors who can easily trip or fall on if they are not careful.

Although the rookery is a popular San Diego tourist attraction, Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach are not places where visitors host picnics or take a swim, Musegaas said.

However, the City Council approved maintaining ocean access points for those using the waters for recreational purposes, such as bodysurfing, scuba diving, swimming and other water-based aquatic activities. Brian Elliott, an environmental committee consultant for LaCava, said many of these groups have swum in Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach for decades, keeping a safe distance from the sea lions.

“They’ve done a good job of making sure they don’t disturb them,” Elliott said. “We appreciate the fact that this isn’t their intent, and were able to equip them to give them that access. They’ve been really good about trying to keep as wide a berth to the animals as possible.”

This isn’t the first time these areas have been restricted to the public. LaCava’s office said they began receiving reports upon taking office two years ago that visitors were harassing the growing sea lion population, and eventually put up signage around the public areas hoping to educate people on the dangers of making direct contact with sea lions.

In 2021, as incidents and complaints continued, city officials began working with the California Coastal Commission to instate an emergency closure of the areas during the sea lions’ pupping season.

While there were a few cases of individuals jumping the barrier, overall trends showed the decision kept more people on the nearby boardwalk area to safely observe the lions. Following the success of this decision, Elliott said, the California Coastal Commission eventually granted the city a permit to regularly close affected areas during pupping season.

Monday’s vote empowers rangers and other public safety officials to enforce any permit or trespassing violations.

“It just shows that they recognized there was a need to protect the sea lions and protect people alike,” Miller said.



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