Seal Cam Brings Viewers into Contact with Nature on Its Own Terms
• Local Enviro-Activists Operate Setup from Their Malibu Home---Protects Animals and Educates
BY ANNE SOBLE
A Malibu couple with a longstanding commitment to the protection of nature and a hands-on approach to environmental activism are involved in a project that enables humans to share the world of harbor seals while not interfering or having adverse effects on the animals.
Larry Wan was the second mayor of the City of Malibu and its only elected official to resign because of politics and policy differences. Sara Wan, a former California Coastal Commission member, is also no stranger to the public policy battlefield.
The Wans are the founders of the Western Alliance for Nature, a conservancy whose “core mission is the preservation of biodiversity by conservation of threatened, endangered and rapidly vanishing wildlife habitats.”
WAN recently installed what has been dubbed the Seal Cam on the beach in La Jolla located online at www.wanconservancy.org
The Seal Cam provides live around the clock coverage of the La Jolla colony of about 200 seals, which is now experiencing pupping season. The Wans say that the setup has documented seven recent births, the main control center of which is located at their Malibu home.
The La Jolla haul-out has been the scene of controversy over the past 13 years, according to the Wans. This area historically had seals but when seals were hunted to near extinction, their numbers dwindled. The area then became known as Children’s Pool Beach with its own convoluted history until nature returned the animals to their traditional habitat.
The Wans stress that although the state Marine Mammal Protection Act and city law protect harbor seals, there is currently no enforcement at the location.
The Wans say, “This is a unique population of seals because it is in a highly urbanized setting, which allows people to see and enjoy wild animals in their natural habitat.”
They add, “This harbor seal rookery in La Jolla is the only Southern California mainland harbor seal rookery south of Ventura County some 200 miles to the north and is the southernmost harbor seal rookery in the United States.”
To provide 24/7 real time live viewing via the Internet to people all over the world and to provide scientific researchers information on Harbor Seal activity, requires a very advanced webcam system, Sara Wan says.
For viewing nocturnal birthing events, an infrared illuminator is required. Both the camera and the IR beam has to be remotely operated via the Internet by a human operator, who scans with the camera looking for a seal giving birth or nursing and caring for the young and zooms the camera on the mother seal.
The camera has to be motorized, with built-in computer and software for remote pan, tilt and zoom control.
Weatherproof housing, including remotely operated wipers to clear the camera window of fog and bird droppings, are also necessities. All together, such a system has a high cost for equipment, installation, Internet service, website design and maintenance, and 24/7 human operators.
The WAN pair stresses that “it is the only such wildlife cam on the western U.S. coast.”
Wan said, “It was technologically challenging because of the need for remote control of the camera at a location on top of the lifeguard tower with no development or infrastructure on the seaward side of the street. Except when the professional harassers are present, most people who come stand behind the rope and the seals accept their presence.”
“Unfortunately, the seals and the people who support them are frequently deliberately harassed. Last week, for instance, they were harassed almost every night by people coming down to the beach. People cross the rope go up to the seals, deliberately shine lights in their eyes, use searchlights, etc. to try to scare them.”
Last week, two women reportedly went to the beach between 8 and 8:30 p.m. and then again between midnight and 12:50 a.m. and repeatedly flashed cameras in the seals’ eyes and kicked them, pulled their flippers and sat on them. Wan said, “Many of pregnant females were unable to move quickly.”
She added, “The Seal Cam project is commensurate with our core mission of endeavoring to educate the public, provide for scientific research, and thereby promote sustainable ecosystem practices and management via a high definition live streaming webcam.”