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Beach Brawl: Seals Vs. Swimmers

Animal advocates who want to protect seals living at a beach sued the city of San Diego on Tuesday, the latest episode in a standoff that's included at least two suspicious seal deaths.

At stake is the future of a 73-year-old manmade cove in upscale La Jolla that's home to the seals. Locals who want the cove returned to human use support a city plan to dredge the small beach to allow the tide to flush waters polluted by the seals.

A lawsuit filed by San Diego Animal Advocates and two other groups says the dredging plan, estimated to cost up to $500,000 initially, is an unlawful waste of taxpayer money and will drive the seals from the beach forever. The groups also claim the city is violating its own ordinance against disturbing animals on beaches.

A spokeswoman for City Attorney Casey Gwinn did not return a message seeking comment.

The seals have been an issue since the mid-1990s when they started hanging out in the cove known as the Children's Pool. Seal excrement made the beach unfit for humans, and a rope went up to keep people and seals apart. Local residents, many of whom fondly remember learning to swim at the cove, yearned to use the beach again.

While Tuesday's lawsuit accuses the city of doing too much, some La Jolla residents filed suit in March to accuse the city of not doing enough to allow access at the Children's Pool.

Last year, a group of swimmers tried to prove humans and seals could share the cove. But when they came ashore, they spooked the seals, causing them to flee into the water, where one attacked a swimmer.

Still, the City Council last month ordered the rope barrier removed and welcomed people back to the beach as long as they don't bother the seals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating reports that several seals were killed or wounded recently, spokesman Mark Oswell said.

Agents have found two dead seals. One had a cut across its abdomen and the other a cut on its side, Oswell said. The cause of the cuts is under investigation.

By Seth Hettena

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