Children’s Pool and the seals: How to observe the pinnipeds safely

aerial drone view of the childrens pool in La Jolla with seals laying on the beach

Though intended to offer children a safe place to swim in the ocean, La Jolla’s Children’s Pool is more often a haven for harbor seals.

The Children’s Pool, also called Casa Beach, was created and dedicated in 1931 by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, following her gift to fund the construction of a sea wall protecting the sand from large waves.

For several years, however, the beach has been closed seasonally from Dec 15 to May 15, during pupping season for the harbor seals, which haul out on the sand there to rest all year long. A chain blocks visitors from accessing the stairs to the beach during the closure.

This is different from the recently enacted year-round closure of Point La Jollafurther north to protect sea lions from human interaction.

The harbor seals typically give birth from late January through February, according to Sierra Club Seal Society Chair Robyn Davidoff. The mothers then nurse their young for about six weeks.

The beach closes in December, however, to give the pregnant seals time to put on weight and prepare to deliver, longtime Seal Society docent Pam Thomas said.

After the six-week nursing period, the young seals “are fairly self-sufficient,” Davidoff said, a contrast from the sea lions, which, beyond physical differences from the seals such as “walking on land with their larger flippers and having visible ear flaps, can stay with their mothers for about a year to nurse and learn to fish.

Once seal pups are weaned, Thomas said, their mothers “let them go. … They don’t have any more association with their particular pup.”

Since the seals are so self-sufficient, a closure at Children’s Pool isn’t necessitated longer than the May timeframe, Thomas added.

There is a rope barrier up on much of the beach during the open season, however, to remind people to stay back from the seals as they view them; access to the water is allowed via a corridor on the right side of the beach.

The rope barrier guidelines are not enforced, however, Davidoff said, adding the guidelines are most often disregarded in busy summer months.

“Seals are very shy,” Thomas said of the colony, having shifted their normal nocturnal eating behavior to a daytime habit to avoid people on the beach.

The seals return after sunset, she said. “They would rather leave the beach if somebody’s [there].”

Each year, about 75 to 100 pregnant seals haul out at Children’s Pool beach, Thomas said, with any overflow seals moving directly south to South Casa Beach to deliver.

Seals also have “site fidelity,” meaning they will return to where they were born or where they gave birth previously, so most of the seals at Children’s Pool have been there before.

Both the seasonal closure of Children’s Pool and the year-round closure of Point La Jolla are up for California Coastal Commission review in 2029; Seal Society will “absolutely” advocate for the closures’ renewal, Davidoff said. 

Though some might argue the presence of the seals at Children’s Pool is contradictory to Scripps’ original intent, Thomas still feels it’s a children’s beach.

“It’s educational,” she said, “an experience for kids to see nature in its own habitat in an urban setting.”

And as the seals made adaptations in their behavior to accommodate the humans, perhaps humans can do the same, she said.

Sierra Club Seal Society viewing guidelines:

  • Stay at least 50 feet away; don’t surround, corner or block their path.
  • Watch quietly – no shouting or clapping – and move slowly without jumping or running. 
  • Never attempt to touch or pet, follow or chase, or throw any item at the seals. 
  • Do not take selfies and prevent children from approaching them; they can be unpredictable if they feel threatened.
  • Keep dogs away and do not feed them or touch the seals – it can make them sick.
  • Don’t use flashlights at night; it disturbs their sleep.
  • If the seals look up or move, they have been disturbed so move away quietly.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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