In spring of 2021, there were five failed harbor seal births among the rookeries off the coast of Pacific Grove along Ocean View Boulevard. This year, there were 23 failed births. The reason, contends veteran docent Thom Akeman, is that pregnant harbor seals who usually find a safe place to give birth in P.G. were disturbed by the loud noises of city-approved road work during the early weeks of the pupping season, from mid-February until a federal official intervened in mid-April.
Akeman warned the City Council on March 2, early in pupping season, that he and fellow Bay Net volunteers for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary were noticing pregnant seals avoiding rookeries and miscarrying. Despite the warning, the council voted 6-1 (with Councilmember Luke Coletti dissenting) to allow work by California American Water and the Public Works Department to continue, with the goal of finishing the work before the start of the tourist season.
After witnessing more miscarriages as the pupping season continued, Akeman and his wife Kim Akeman, another Bay Net volunteer, contacted officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who oversea the marine sanctuary. A NOAA resource protection coordinator contacted the city reminding them of the need to contact the sanctuary ahead of work that could impact protected wildlife. P.G. Public Works Department officials agreed to pause the work until pupping season ended in late May.
On July 6, Akeman told councilmembers there were “a heartbreaking” 23 miscarriages during the first eight weeks of road work. The Akemans are now sorting through data compiled by docents who annually keep track of variables like ocean conditions, food supply, natural predation and human disturbances, with the goal of writing a case study about this year’s season.
It’s possible the study could hamper the city’s quest to see a proposed 225-room luxury hotel at the American Tin Cannery, near a significant pupping beach next to the Hopkins Marine Station. The project was approved by the City Council 6-1 on Jan. 12 (Coletti was the lone “no” vote). The Akemans submitted one of four accepted appeals to the California Coastal Commission, seeking to overturn the city’s approval of the hotel project, and they plan on using the seal case study as evidence in their appeal. “Ironically the city has given us the clearest data we can find that shows that noise harms harbor seals,” Akeman says.