Respect The Sea Lions

Columbia University alum, La Jolla Merchants Association President and La Jolla Insider Japhet M. Perez Estrada was on the scene to record the famously viral  “La Jolla Cove Sea Lion Encounter” video.  We happily present the video for those who missed it the first go round, along with Japhet’s first hand account.

“As I stepped onto the sands of La Jolla Cove on July 23, 2023 I filmed the now-viral “sea lion attack” video. The video begins with a hefty bull sea lion strutting around the beach as tourists eyed the animal warily. From my right side the alpha sea lion, who I named Chonkers in the video, exploded from the depths of the cove and made a bee-line towards what appeared to be a crowd of tourists. Mayhem erupts at the La Jolla Cove. Children are running away shrieking; grown men scream like little girls; and I laugh off-screen in the video as I bathe in the chaos.

At last, I think to myself, the animals are fighting back. As a La Jolla local, every summer I have been dismayed at the behavior some tourists enact towards our native marine life. I conveyed this same frustration to Insider EditionCNN, and Fox 5 among other news channels that reached out for interviews following the virality of the video I posted on Instagram. La Jolla locals, and San Diego natives who enjoy the ocean, live peacefully with these beautiful creatures. It is the tourists who are uneducated about wildlife interaction that stress these animals. To date, the video has garnered over 20 million views collectively on social media platforms. 

On Monday, September 18, 2023 the California Coastal Commission voted to close off neighboring Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach for one year. On one hand, this strong-armed approach ensures that the sea lions are protected from the harmful human interaction of a minority of tourists year round. On the other hand, it limits the nature experience many of us San Diegans have enjoyed throughout our lives here. I remember being a child and walking on Point La Jolla near sunset, laughing at the wobbly shuffle the sea lions do as they move in and out of the water. I was a respectful distance away from the animals. I can’t help but feel responsible given the transnational attention my video received. Seeing the trajectory of these beach closures, I am now worried that this will escalate and eventually lead to the final closure of La Jolla Cove in the future. While I understand that wildlife should be protected, it is more imperative that we teach our visitors how to respectfully share spaces with the sea lions. Punishing the masses for the behavior of a few should not be the case. 

I have personally intervened when I witnessed an individual harassing a sea lion. A few weeks after the sea lion attack video, I was swimming and snorkeling with friends near Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. A couple of bull sea lions slept on the edge of the shore, and an older man wanted to set up his chair in their area. He threw orange peels at them, awakening and enraging the sea lions. They barked at him, but he kept throwing items at them. I stepped towards him and yelled to leave them alone. After a back and forth banter which included him arguing, ‘Humans are the bosses’ and that ‘they should move out of the way for us.’  He left after I threatened to call the police for disturbing wildlife. 

It’s true that some individuals will not comply with regulations unless they are specifically threatened with repercussions. La Jolla locals, and all those who cherish the sea and its creatures, need to take responsibility and ensure that ill-intentioned visitors are held accountable for their actions. The number of visitors La Jolla receives that are respectful exponentially outnumber the uneducated few who harass the sea lions.”

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