Marine Animal Rescue workers have been busy coming to the aid of dolphins, seals, sea lions and sea birds in Santa Monica Bay over the years, but nothing like rescuers have encountered so far this year.

Just about eight months into the year, the Marine Animal Rescue organization has already been involved in 300 marine mammal rescues, the highest number for one year in its history, said Peter Wallerstein, the rescue agency’s founder. The previous record of 296 rescues was set just last year but the incidents spanned the entire year, said Wallerstein, who has been helping marine animals for 25 years.

With four months still remaining this year, Marine Animal Rescue has already come to the aid of 226 sea lions, 56 elephant seals and 14 harbor seals. The group, which covers a stretch of the coast from Pacific Palisades to Redondo Beach, works in cooperation with Los Angeles County lifeguards and police, fire, and animal services departments throughout the county.

Although the agency has seen an unprecedented number of rescues with a few months left in the year, Wallerstein said the workers are pleased to be able to help the animals that are in need of assistance, whether they are trapped, sick or injured.

“We’re glad that we could respond to all of those,” said Wallerstein, referring to the record number of rescues. “Not one distress call has gone unanswered and we’re happy about that.”

The majority of rescue incidents have occurred along the coast between Venice Beach and the South Bay beaches, he said. June, which is typically the month with the most rescues, has recorded the most this year with 63.

Wallerstein credited several other agencies — including lifeguards, Santa Monica and Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol, the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station and Los Angeles Port Police — in the efforts to attend to a record-breaking number of rescues.

“It’s a team out there of agencies working with Marine Animal Rescue and that’s why we’re so successful,” he said.

While the agency may have received more calls for assistance, the 300 animals aided were all in need of some type of rescue, he noted. Among the incidents this year have been sea lions that were found shot and marine animals suffering from domoic acid poisoning as a result of harmful algae blooms.

Wallerstein attributed his agency’s success in responding to the animals in need to the experience and dedication of the workers.

“It’s a testament to our ability to not miss many,” he said. “If we have to respond we usually get them.”

Many of the animals helped by Marine Animal Rescue are taken for treatment to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, which has also seen a record for intakes of sea animals this year, said David Bard, director of the facility.

The care center has already had 422 animals admitted, which is well over the total for last year and surpasses its busiest year in 2005, Bard said. The facility has added five new enclosures that have helped accommodate the increasing number of animals needing treatment, he said.

“We’ve seen an increase but we’ve taken it well in stride,” Bard explained.

He called the efforts of Marine Animal Rescue and other agencies in bringing the animals in for care “much appreciated.”

Wallerstein surmised that the record amount of marine rescues this year can be attributed to the impact of El Nino, with the warming of surface waters in the Pacific causing fish to relocate deeper, where pelicans and young sea lions are unable to reach and can become starved. He pointed to another high impact season for El Nino in 1997-98, when there were also a large number of rescues.

The need for rescues this year could be far greater if the incidents of domoic acid poisonings were as significant as they were last year, Wallerstein pointed out.

“If there was a big domoic outbreak with El Nino we would be in trouble and the animals would be in trouble,” he said.

The Marine Animal Rescue founder said he expects the frequency of rescues to slow down for the remainder of the year but he still anticipates that the next year will be “unusually busy.”

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