As pupping season begins, San Diego’s Children’s Pool closed to humans — again

Harbor seals loll on the Children's Pool beach in April 2014 while people watch from the sheltering wall.
Harbor seals loll on the Children’s Pool beach in April 2014 while people watch from the sheltering wall.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

If you enjoy swimming in the sheltered waters of San Diego’s Children’s Pool, mark your calendar for May 15. That’s the day the city will reopen the popular La Jolla beach.

The pool was closed Sunday to protect harbor seals who have used the beach as a nursery since at least 1996.

How people and seals could coexist on this 110-yard, crescent-shaped stretch of sand has long been debated. But when this beach was named the Children’s Pool in 1932, there was nothing controversial about it.

At the time, philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps paid for the construction of a curved wall around the sand. This created a safe harbor for toddlers.


In the 1990s, though, harbor seals discovered that this was also an ideal rookery, a place to rear pups safe from predators.

Humans and seals coexisted here for years, although there was tension. People were reported harassing the animals; others cited seals charging children and adults who wandered too close to pups. Soon, rival advocacy groups sprang up.

“The seals had prospered for over 20 years sharing habitat with people,” argued the website of Friends of the Children’s Pool. “If the city still insists shared use is impractical, it can allow restoration of Children’s Pool as originally entrusted, not a giant sand box.”

“The close proximity of these seals to humans is unique,” countered La Jolla Friends of the Seals’ website, “as harbor seals will almost always ‘flush’ into the water when approached. This has allowed 120,000 monthly visitors from all over the world to see seals resting, mothers birthing, pups nursing, males splashing the water with their flippers, and couples swimming together in their mating ritual.”

In 2014, the city closed the beach during pupping season. The California Coastal Commission approved, but Friends of the Children’s Pool sued.

In 2016, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Friends, saying the city’s actions were “preempted by the public’s right to beach access acquired under the Coastal Act, the California Constitution and the terms of the legislation granting the Children’s Pool Beach to the city.”


In June 2018, though, the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed that decision, ruling that the city had the right to annually close the beach for 5½ months.

Rowe writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.