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On one stretch of California coast, it’s sand, sea, and man vs. beast

A years-long legal battle for a La Jolla cove may be ending – but for activists on both sides, the seal saga goes on.

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It’s a sunny summer Tuesday, and in the waters off La Jolla Cove, kayakers paddle toward underwater caves and swimmers dot the surface. At Children’s Pool, a sliver of beach sheltered by a 300-foot-long crescent-shaped wall, the sand is white, the water is a shimmery blue-green, and the smell – well, the smell is terrible.

The air is thick with the stench of seal poop – a scent as sour as the years-long battle for this tiny piece of shoreline. For over a decade, it’s been the pinnipeds vs. the people in a fight for control, with activists on both sides using everything from heckling and restraining orders to lawsuits and a stun gun to draw and redraw their respective lines in the sand.

Seals have been gathering here since the 1990s, gradually making Children’s Pool – created as a place for families and children – a seal rookery, a place for the animals to have babies, rest, and relieve themselves. These days, given the water’s bacteria levels, it’s no longer considered safe for humans to swim.

Until very recently, the city was asking visitors to stay behind a rope barrier that protected seals lounging at the water’s edge. But in 2005, a California Superior Court ordered the city to take down the rope, remove the seals, and clean up the pool. Animal-rights activists appealed the decision, but last month, a US Appeals Court refused to hear their case. The California Supreme Court has also declined to hear it. The city has already begun the permitting process to clear the way for dredging, says Stacey LoMedico, San Diego’s Parks and Recreation director. But that process will probably take years, and in the meantime, the battle rages on.

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