Seal Pupping Season at the Children’s Pool

The Children’s Pool closes for seal pupping season from December 15 through May 15.

Seal pupping season in La Jolla is upon us, bringing pregnant mammas, live births, and the cutest little seal pups you ever saw. The seals in La Jolla are always a crowd favorite for locals and visitors, and it’s an exciting place to see coastal wildlife in their element. The seals are a huge part of the landscape and personality of La Jolla, so it’s hard to believe all did not welcome their existence. 

Despite that, many look forward to seeing the seals during their visit to La Jolla and consider it a privilege to see them thriving on this part of La Jolla’s stunning coast. Although seals live in La Jolla year-round, seal pupping season is an extraordinary time of year for witnessing new life come into the world.

Here’s all you need to know to make the best of your visit during the seal pupping season in La Jolla.  

Seal Pupping Season

Seal pupping season in La Jolla is from December 15 through May 15, during which the closure of the Children’s Pool in La Jolla is in effect. Most seal births usually occur in January and February, with some earlier births in late December or late births in March. 

Live Births

Volunteer with the Seal Society of San Diego, Pam Thomas, said during the 2022 pupping season, there were approximately 60 births. She recalls a time when she saw a seal come out of the water and give birth just 20 minutes later.

So if you’re lucky, you could see a live birth if you make it out this pupping season. If you are there while a live birth takes place, staying quiet and keeping your distance is essential. You don’t want to startle the birthing mothers and cause them stress.

ten seals nap on the beach at the children's pool in La Jolla while new momma seal cares for new baby seal
Mom and pup, Holly, the first pup of the season, born December 26, 2022.

The Best Place to See the Seals in La Jolla

The Children’s Pool, aka Casa Beach

While you can see the harbor seals anywhere along the coast, the iconic Children’s Pool is the best place to see the seals in La Jolla. The inlet at the Children’s Pool creates a safe place for seals to rest and give birth away from the stronger currents. You can rest on the rails that overlook the children’s pool or grab a seat on a nearby bench.

South Casa Beach

South Casa Beach is located directly on the other side of the Children’s Pool. It’s a small triangle-shaped beach where some seals go to give birth. However, South Casa Beach is not part of the seasonal closure, and there have been reports of seals being disturbed at this beach. Therefore, you should still apply the viewing guidelines at South Casa, even though the beach is technically open.

Seal Rock

Seal Rock is offshore from South Casa Beach. Directly North of the Children’s Pool, there’s another popular seal rock where you’ll find seals resting. These rock slabs are relatively flat and easy for the seals to get up on. 

Walk along Coast Blvd

Take a walk along Coast Boulevard from Ellen Scripps Browning Park and head south. You’ll pass Boomer Beach, Shell Beach, the Children’s pool, South Casa Beach, and Wipeout Beach. While walking, you can see seals swimming or lounging on the rocks off the coast.

The Children’s Pool Through the Years

The Children’s Pool is one of the most recognizable places in La Jolla. Known for its 300-foot-long concrete wall, built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Children’s Pool was a popular bathing and swimming destination for locals and tourists alike. 

After many years of planning, the construction of the breakwater seawall began in 1930. The intent was to make the swimming spot safer for swimmers and children, as it posed a severe threat to life because of the location’s strong cross currents.

It was just one of the many gifts to the community that philanthropist and prominent community figure, Ellen Browning Scripps, spearheaded. The community celebrated the finished construction of the Children’s Pool seawall in May 1931.

The harbor seals arrive

Harbor seals began arriving at the Children’s Pool beach around the mid-1990s. Their arrival sparked controversy, with the community wondering how they could share the beach with the seals so both could be happy. The seals have since been a hot topic among community members who wanted to keep beach access open for public use. Wildlife conservationists supported the creation of a boundary, so the seals would have a dedicated, protected area away from beachgoers. 

Barriers and beach closures

In 1999, the Children’s Pool saw the first annual rope barrier installed to restrict human-wildlife interactions. In 2004, however, the city removed the barrier rope and adopted the ‘joint use’ policy, so beachgoers could enjoy all parts of the beach. 

Informational signs cautioned and required people to keep their distance from the seals and not harass them or create other potential conflicts. Unfortunately, after removing the barrier rope, there was an increase in seal harassment cases, prompting conservationists to demand the barrier be reinstalled.

In 2006, the rope was reinstalled, creating a year-round rope boundary between the public and the seals. Throughout the years, concerted efforts were made to remove the seal colony from the Children’s Pool beach.

The goal was to return the beach to the community as initially intended. Still, ultimately, in 2014, a winning vote prompted the permanent closure of the beach during the seals’ pupping season from December 15 through May 15. 

beach closed signage on chain link blocking access to stairs overlooking children's pool beach where many seals are laying

The harbor seal rookery

Because the harbor seals made this part of La Jolla their home, it provides an excellent educational benefit to wildlife lovers and conservationists. There is much opportunity to learn more about their behaviors and patterns while protecting them and ensuring they can peacefully coexist with us. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recognized the area as an official seal rookery soon after the first seal births were documented. It’s the only rookery between the Mexican border and Ventura, 160 miles north. In 2009, the San Diego City Council sanctioned the area as a “marine mammal park for the enjoyment and educational benefit of children.”

Education, Volunteers, and the Sierra Club Seal Society

In 1999, a nonprofit organization, the La Jolla Friends of the Seals (LJFS), was founded. They dedicated their efforts toward public awareness and education to support the protection of the seal rookery at the Children’s Pool. 

Volunteers with LJFS formed the Seal Society of San Diego in 2015 and later partnered with the Sierra Club of San Diego to create the Sierra Club Seal SocietyEvery year, volunteers, or docents, take shifts daily during the pupping season to inform visitors and monitor the area to ensure visitors abide by the beach closure notices.

The docents welcome and encourage visitors to ask questions and learn more about the seals. You can keep up with seal news, updates, and photos on the Seal Society of San Diego’s Facebook page. If you can’t make an in-person visit to see the seals, the Facebook updates are the next best thing.

Viewing Guidelines and Etiquette

Viewing the seals and sea lions is a popular activity in La Jolla, and with increased crowds, especially during the pupping season, it’s crucial to respect the animals. Ignoring the guidelines can be extremely harmful to the animals. Disruptive behavior can cause significant stress on the seals and, sometimes, can mean the separation of a pup from its frightened mom.

During the pupping season beach closure, visitors are prohibited from accessing the beach from December 15 to May 15 to give the animals the most space and a stress-free environment. However, it’s encouraged that anyone visiting the seals reviews thoroughly these year-round viewing guidelines that will keep you and the animals safe.

Keep your distance

Stay at least 50 ft away from seals and sea lions.

Watch quietly

Keep your voices low, with no shouting or screaming, especially if you are there during live birth.

Move slowly

Refrain from sudden movements such as jumping or running, as this can startle or spook off nursing mothers from their pups.

Look, don’t touch

Something is wrong if you are close enough to touch a seal. So keep your distance and never attempt to touch, pet, or sit on the seals.

Selfie photos

It’s better to bring your zoom lens if you want a close-up shot of the animals. Getting close enough to take selfies is dangerous for you and animals. 

Do not feed the animals

They find food for themselves and their pups just fine. So please do not feed or throw food at them. This is considered a form of harassment.

Keep dogs leashed

Keep in mind that excited and barking dogs can disrupt the seals. So if visiting when the closure lifts and you’re outside of regular beach hours (either before 9 am or after 6 pm), dogs must remain leashed and kept away from the animals.

No harassment of any kind

Don’t chase, follow, surround, or corner the seals or sea lions. Never throw sand, rocks, or other items to rouse the animals. Sadly, sometimes guidelines are not respected, and mothers have become so startled that they leave their pups.

Depending on if the mother is experienced, they may or may not make it back to their pup. If they don’t, the pup won’t survive unless rescued.

Please respect the guidelines and the animals so moms and pups can stay together.

a handful of beachgoers enjoy the small south casa beach in La Jolla on a cloudy day

Seals vs. Sea Lions

There is typically some confusion between the harbor seals and the sea lions. While both mammals are ‘pinnipeds’ (fin-footed), there are distinct differences, including physical characteristics, vocalizations, mobility, temperament, the areas they inhabit, and their pupping seasons.

How to tell the two apart

Coloring

Seals are a darker gray, almost black, with speckled skin, while sea lions are brown.

Flippers

Seals have smaller front flippers, while seal lions have more prominent, stronger flippers that give them the ability to walk, run, and climb. So you’d mostly see sea lions up on the rocks of Point La Jolla.

In contrast, the seals prefer the soft sand of the beach of the Children’s Pool and get around by wriggling on their bellies.

Ear flaps

Seals are ‘earless’ because they don’t have a substantial ear flap like the sea lions.

Vocalizations

When people report barking sounds coming from La Jolla Cove, those are the barks of the male sea lions. Seals are quieter and don’t bark, but they vocalize with softer grunts.

Social tendencies

The harbor seals are more passive and like their personal space, mainly leading solitary lives in and out of the water unless it’s time to mate. Although they may be near each other in the same beach area, you’ll notice they don’t enjoy touching.

Meanwhile, their pinniped relatives, the sea lions, love to pile up in cozy cuddle puddles.

Pupping seasons

While the pupping season for the seals is December through May, the pupping season for the sea lions is May through October, with births occurring in June and July and mating in August and September.

Harbor seal pups are already born superb swimmers; unlike sea lion pups, they can keep up with their mom in the water. This is also the reason for the extended sea lion pupping season closure. Sea lion pups will remain on the rocks until they are stronger and old enough to swim. They also depend on their mom for the first six to eight months of their life, so a longer closure is helpful.

a very pregnant seal momma contemplates life on the beach at the children's pool in La Jolla

A very pregnant momma. Photo by Pam Thomas.

Seal Pupping Facts

-The gestation period for seal moms is around nine to eleven months, with females giving birth to just one pup each year.

-Because seal pups can swim immediately after birth, they can join their mom in short swims.

-Mothers can nurse their pups in and out of the water, with pups typically nursing for around four to six weeks

-Seal pups can weigh up to 26 pounds at birth.

-Mother seals are very affectionate, nurturing, and attentive to their pups and can recognize their pups by smell and vocalizations.

-Female seals have two mammary glands on the lower abdomen for nursing.

-A group of seals can be called a bob, rookery, pod, harem, or herd.

Where to Park

If you’re okay with walking, start at the northern end of Coast Blvd at La Jolla Cove. Try to find either metered or free street parking as you drive South toward the Children’s Pool. You can turn into any side street to find additional parking at any point along Coast Blvd. Side streets closest to the Children’s Pool are Jenner Street, Eads Avenue, or Cuvier Street, just a short walk to the Children’s Pool viewing area.

There is also a paid parking lot at 1200 Prospect Street in the La Jolla Financial Building and paid lots on Girard Avenue.

Animal Emergencies

If you see a hurt seal or sea lion, inform the lifeguard, or contact the SeaWorld San Diego marine mammal rescue number at 1-800-541-7325. Don’t try to help the animal yourself. 

If you see an animal being abused or harassed, inform a lifeguard or call the San Diego Police Department’s non-emergency line.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement will also take any calls regarding marine animal abuse. They can be reached at 1-800-853-1964.

Enjoy the Seals at La Jolla

Every visit to the seals in La Jolla is different, as there’s never a dull moment when observing these beautiful marine mammals, especially during their pupping season. So enjoy your time, stay safe, and always respect the animals. 

Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.
Picture of Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch

Valorie Hirsch is a Content Manager and writer at lajolla.ca, helping readers discover the best of La Jolla, from things to do, dining, events, and more, so visitors and locals can have the best experience and stay connected. A San Diego native, you can usually find her enjoying live music shows, hiking local trails, tackling the world's most difficult reads, or catching up with her favorite Instagram cat celebrities.

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