Andrea Else Hahn/Facebook(SAN DIEGO) -- La Jolla, a community in San Diego, is known for its significant population of California sea lions that have made the beaches in the area their home.
La Jolla resident and wildlife advocate Andrea Else Hahn recently captured video of tourists and visitors appearing to harass sea lion pups on a beach.
In the video, which was posted to Facebook on Dec. 31, multiple people can be seen trying to come close to the marine mammals to photograph or touch them. In response, the pups can be seen recoiling and even lunging their heads at people several times.
The video has since gone viral, garnering more than 1.5 million views as of Tuesday. It has also reignited a debate in the community about whether the sea lions should be relocated or if more should be done to prevent people from approaching them, reported ABC affiliate KGTV in San Diego.
In November, the La Jolla Town Council sent a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, asking him to take "prompt and effective action to move and exclude" sea lions "from areas where their presence creates severe public health and safety problems."
The council's president, along with members of a community "task force on California sea lions," argued in the letter that the beaches of La Jolla have become a "dirty ... litterbox" and expressed concern about sea lion attacks on people.
However, others in the community believe that the sea lions should not be forced from their home, and people need to do more to protect them.
A counter-petition, also addressed to the mayor, was recently launched on change.org by University of California San Diego student Skylar Rains.
In the petition, Rains argues that "it is not appropriate to exclude animals from their natural habitat simply because they pose as an inconvenience to humans."
She wrote that the town of La Jolla "should instead focus on rerouting swimmers, residents, and tourists to nearby city beaches."
The San Diego mayor's office did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment on the petitions to the mayor.
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is urging people who visit La Jolla to "share the shore" and enjoy watching marine wildlife in a "safe and responsible way."
Coming too close to sea lions can be dangerous for both the people approaching them and the animals themselves, according to Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region.
"First of all, it stresses the animals," Milstein told ABC News Tuesday. "They come on the shore to rest and regulate their temperatures and to take a breather in between foraging from the ocean. They need the opportunity to do that undisturbed."
Milstein added that continued disturbances to sea lion pups -- like the kind seen in the recent viral Facebook video -- can cause mothers to abandon the pups.
NOAA law enforcement officers are aware of and "disturbed" by the recent video showing "people clearly harassing" sea lion pups, but the officers "determined there was not enough evidence after-the-fact to identify the people in them and track them down," Milstein said.
NOAA does want people to know, though, that it is a violation of federal law to harass sea lions and other marine mammals.
"They're protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act," Milstein said. "The act doesn't give a specific distance requirement, but we recommend that people stay at least 100 yards away from wildlife they encounter on the beach and shore."
Milstein added, "The key is for people to use common sense and to remind themselves that these are wild animals, and they're unpredictable. We want both people and the animals to stay safe."
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