SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Swimmers off the coast of La Jolla, California are being fined while swimming at public beaches. The reason: harassment of harbor seals that colonize the beach.
Authorities are worried that actions that cause the seals to flee to the surf endanger the seal population, and that can generate fines up to $1000.
"One of the common responses for seals and sea lions to stimulus that startles them is to run into the water, if you do that during the pupping season there's opportunities for trampling of pups, there's opportunities for separating mothers from young," said Jim Lecky of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
One area swimmer, Lilo Creighton, appealed her penalty in court. Although the judge ruled against her, he found that the corresponding legislation called the Marine Mammal Protection Act (search) was confusing and ambiguous. While Creighton was fined $1000, other swimmers have been fined only $600 for such overt acts as attacking seals with their goggles.
The judge found that swimmers could be fined even if their actions cause the seals to raise their heads, something that could hardly be seen as endangering the species.
Creighton is arguing that harbor seals are not a protected species and in the meantime continues to swim at La Jolla.
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