Sea Lion Stench Forces Businesses to Sue San Diego

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In the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, one of the year's more interesting lawsuits has been filed. Last Friday, Citizens for Odor Nuisance Abatement filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of San Diego in order to seek a solution to the stench plaguing the neighborhood.

The group, which consists of La Valencia Hotel and George's at the Cove, blames the pungent stench on sea lion poop. La Jolla Cove becomes the home for hundreds of sea lion each year. While the sea lions help La Jolla bring in tourists, the stench brought from their excrement in recent years has become overbearing and has turned away business, states the companies filing the lawsuit: “We consider this to be a potential health hazard and a serious public nuisance, and we have faced the resulting financial hardships for too long. We’ve run out of patience,” complained George Hauer, owner of George's at the Cove.

The plaintiffs in the case have stated that they are “... not trying to gain anything from this in particular, except for the city’s attention — with backing from the court — to once and for all deal with this issue in a dedicated, thorough and sustained manner.”

Last month, interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said that his office was determined to make this issue a priority for the city. Since that time, the city has been looking at various methods through which the stench can be removed without harming the sea lions themselves.

Several California coastal towns suffer from similar sea lion issues and have employed a multitude of solutions, with varying degrees of effectiveness. For example, the City of Monterey has employed “animal behavior modification” specialists to make noises to scare the sea lions away, using such instruments as tape-measures and keys. The "animal behavior modification" specialists have also used Super Soakers to squirt the sea lions, who like to remain dry after leaving the waters and inhabiting the beach.

Other effective methods of deterrence include the use of those inflatable dancing creations frequently employed by car dealerships to attract businesses, fences to block access to the beaches, and even electrical systems which use low-voltage shocks to deter the sea lions.

Whatever method the city decides to use, it has to comply with the provisions of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

As it currently stands, the city is exploring options to place a gate in the fence which currently blocks pedestrian access to the cove, a solution seemingly championed by the plaintiffs in the suit: “Preventing coastal access to the rocks by the public gradually led to a buildup of excrement from sea lions and cormorant birds,” states the lawsuit.

The fence was originally positioned along the cove due to the instability of the cliffs, something which posed a danger to the general public. However, the plaintiffs believe that “The installation of caution signs should be more than sufficient to protect the safety of the pedestrians that assume the risk of walking on the rocks.”

While interim Mayor Todd Gloria has yet to speak on the lawsuit, Alex Roth, spokesman for the mayor, has stated, "We are well aware this is a problem impacting businesses and quality of life in La Jolla. We are actively working toward a solution. No options are off the table."

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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