COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Sea lions, tourism and PETA’s agenda

The people who want to shut down Sea World because of its use of orca whales to entertain the public are at it again. The latest target is the sea lion population that has adopted La Jolla Cove as a dormitory. Residents have complained about the stench and taken legal action.

Unfortunately, citizens of La Jolla and businesses lost the first round when a judge ruled that the city was not responsible to clean up the smelly debris. No doubt there will be an appeal, or another approach to remedy the situation because of the serious impact on the tourist trade.

La Jolla already has endured decades of legal battles over the Children’s Pool below Casa de Manana where the local seals have taken over a dedicated family beach as their habitat. Humans are not allowed to get close and at times are restricted from the area.

Apparently, a large majority of visitors that enjoy gazing at the seals from a distance lend their support to keep the beach exclusive as the nursery for pupping.

That’s too bad because the protected cove is an ideal beach for small children. That was the intent of Ellen Browning Scripps who, in the early 20th century, underwrote construction of the sea wall and dedicated the cove to children.

The latest assault on controlling the habitat of sea lions was launched by a citizens group that proposes to hire Precision Behavior, an Orlando Fla.-based company that advises zoos and marine parks on animal behavior. Needless to say, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal-rights group, are avidly trying to defeat any interference with the sea lions’ lives and habits.

Before 2014, the La Jolla Cove was plagued with pungent animal waste from seabirds, to the point where tourists no longer went to this picturesque area of La Jolla. Merchants and restaurant owners complained until a team went in to clear the guano off the rocks to reduce the smell and public health hazard. Then came the sea lions.

Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement proposes to teach the sea lions new behavioral habits that will make La Jolla Cove less comfy, reported Deborah Sullivan Brennan of U-T San Diego. It is unclear who would pay for the training.

If the PETA people take this on as their latest crusade, we can expect years of political dodge ball and even more restrictions to public scenic areas. It seems the city should decide if the coastline and beaches belong to people or sea animals.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the SeaWorld orca whale show rumbles on, taking its toll on the marine park’s operations. There has been public backlash from the PETA expose inspired by “Blackfish,” a documentary film. The company revealed that the publicity hit attendance, causing the projected earnings to drop 7 percent.

Despite the state shelving proposed legislation to curtail the popular Shamu show, the market price of SeaWorld stock has fallen 33 percent in the year after the documentary. Efforts to improve the captive space for the performing orcas failed to stem the tide of public censure of displaying wild animals for entertainment.

SeaWorld is rebranding itself as a protector of wild animal life with a massive advertising campaign and process. It will be an ongoing conflict as the PETA people will not give up easily when they have such a prominent target to exploit their agenda, which is to give wild animals equal rights to human beings.

The ongoing accusations of mistreating wildlife will continue to have an adverse economic effect not only on SeaWorld, but possibly also to the San Diego Zoo, where thousands of animals are kept in captivity. The effect on San Diego’s tourist trade would be significant if PETA continues to pursue its campaign to free wild animals from human control.

As Daily Transcript columnist George Hawkins observed, the protection groups would unwittingly close zoos, take away pet dogs and free the racehorses if they pursued their vendetta against the marine parks. I don’t think it would go that far, but where do you draw the line on returning animals to the wild?


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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John Leek 8:01am April 16, 2015

Thank you for the intelligent insights. Just as you might expect Peta has filed yet another frivolous lawsuit. As you said, "a prominent target to exploit their agenda". But they are not alone. Sierra Club backs their every issue in the background. It's big business, and money and power are there for the having. I am sending your article to the La Jolla Town Council because they have asked for real information and do not know how to get it. They have no idea of the forces at work that will ruin their "Jewel of the Pacific".