Public harassing sea lions in La Jolla

Posted at 6:14 PM, Jan 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-07 15:10:43-05
Disturbing video shows crowds of people harassing sea lions in La Jolla over the holiday break.
Animal rights activist Andrea Else Hahn shot the video December 30 not far from the Children's Pool.
In the video, people are seen poking and trying to pet the wild animals, and letting their children get dangerously close. The wild animals are clearly agitated - seen barking, snapping and lunging at the unwanted visitors.
Friday afternoon, 10News cameras captured more of the same behavior from visitors - as they got to close to the animals. 
"I think they're pretty cool. I just wanted to pet them.  I wanted to pet 'em but then my buddy Mitchel tried to and he kept making a weird noise," said David Richison who is  here with his family from the Fresno area.
Richison said he had no idea it's against the law to touch or get close to the seals and sea lions, even though signs are posted telling the public not to approach the animals.
Christina and Trevor Dean were visiting from Vancouver. They were appalled by the video. 
"These people are lunatics, it's pretty dangerous," said Dean who was especially shocked at how adults were behaving. "I couldn't even imagine what you would be thinking to walk up to a wild animal and have your children that close to them, it's insane."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for enforcing laws that protect the animals. A spokesman said the agency is aware of the video, but there is no way to find the people seen in it.  
"It's deeply disturbing that people would treat wild animals that way and dangerous as well," said spokesman Michael Milstein. 
The animals are especially sensitive this time of year due to pupping season. 
"The more you disturb them, the less likely it is that they're going to be able to survive in the long term," said Milstein.
It's also extremely dangerous for people.
"People are coming up and in some cases, touching the animals and having the animals snap at them, that's a natural defensive behavior by the animal, but clearly dangerous for people," said Milstein. "These are many hundred pound animals with very strong jaws."
A ranger patrols the coastline in La Jolla, but not full time. Milstein said limited staffing makes enforcement difficult. 
"We just don't have enough people to be present there at all times," said Milstein. "We're working with California Department of Fish and Wildlife and local authorities to try to increase presence there as well as to increase awareness to educate people."
Violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act can lead to a fine of up to $11,000 and even in a year in jail. 
The public is encouraged to call the agency's enforcement hotline to report behavior that is disturbing the marine mammals. 
The number is 1-800-853-1964.