A long-running legal battle over whether to evict a colony of harbour seals that inexplicably took over a popular beach in San Diego like a gaggle of tourists overstaying their welcome appeared closer than ever to ending on Friday when a judge ruled that they can stay put.

For more than a decade, the seals, dozens of them lounging and lollygagging on a La Jolla beach, have delighted tourists and animal lovers. But they have also irked swimmers and others who are concerned about the waste they produce.

People on both sides of the issue battled in state and the federal court, winning at one point conflicting rulings, over whether the city should be forced to shoo them away because their chosen spot, a cove known as Children’s Pool, was set aside in 1931 for young beachgoers under the terms of a trust that deeded the land to the city.

But a State law that takes effect on January 1 gives the city broad discretion to maintain the beach as it sees fit, and the City Council has indicated that it favours keeping the seals. Judge Timothy B. Taylor of Superior Court, overruling a previous order by a predecessor in the case to disperse the seals, ruled that given the new law, there was no point in kicking the seals out now. Bryan W. Pease, a lawyer for the Animal Protection and Rescue League, said: “This is the final conclusion of a battle that has raged for several years.”

The seals basked on the beach, oblivious as usual to the fuss. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

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