Since our Nautical News column last week that discussed domoic acid poisoning in marine animals, the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and the Whale Rescue Team out of El Segundo have been working double-time trying to manage all the marine mammals and sea birds that have been continuing to suffer the consequences of domoic acid poisoning, a product of an algae bloom that produces a toxin that passes through the marine food chain causing seizures, paralysis and sometimes death.
Over the past few weeks there has been an abnormally large number of dolphins, sea lions, seals and sea birds on our local beaches and marina basins in need of rescue and treatment.
In addition to and in concert with the Whale Rescue Team, lifeguards, harbor patrols and other agencies have all been faced with the quandary of tending to this continuing influx of large-sized and often unpredictable wildlife finding their way into public areas.
“We want people to report them, but stay away,” said Peter Wallerstein, founder of the Whale Rescue Team that handles the majority of marine mammal and sea bird rescues from Malibu to Long Beach.
Wallerstein asks the public to understand that there are procedures to adhere to that exist to ensure the safety of both animals and the public.
“We run into a lot of people in the Marina and elsewhere that donít understand that when they witness a sea lion struggling in the water, we canít lend a hand until they get out of the water. We want [the public] to watch them for us, and once they get onto a dive step, a public boat launch or a beach, then we can take action.”
Wallerstein has devoted his life to saving these animals and while he has seen severe domoic outbreaks before, the urgency of his tone seems to indicate that this outbreak is worse than others in the past.
With a new specially-outfitted truck and trailer, he is better equipped than ever before to handle the inundation of these weary animals, but he fears their fate wonít depend on his actions anyway.
His concerns these days have less to do with his own ability to keep up with the rescues and more about whether there will be too many for the care facilities to handle.
Wallerstein brings all of his rescues to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and they can only do so much.
“Unfortunately, they have a limited capacity,” said Wallerstein woefully. “Iíve been told that in the near future there will come a point where weíll have to leave suffering animals on the beach because of their inability to take any more.”
The limitation causes problems on both sides of the proverbial fence. Obviously, for the sake of the animalís long-term benefit, expeditious treatment is their best bet. But the public safety factor is also of great importance.
If these sick and ailing animals that gravitate to populated beaches and launch ramps happen upon areas where there are children and other uninformed people, the consequences could be severe.
“This could create a public safety nightmare,” said Wallerstein of the dilemma. “Having these big animals on the beach partially paralyzed, with people all around — itís horrible to think of.”
He is particularly frustrated in the heat of this difficult time because a number of years ago Wallerstein, together with Los Angeles County officials, found a piece of property where an auxiliary care center could be built, but the project was thwarted by officials within the federal government.
“It would have been ideal,” Wallerstein said. “It would have been supportive of the Marine Mammal Care Center and allow them less-crowded situations and provide safer and better care for the animals.
“But the federal government told the county that they felt it was unnecessary and werenít ready to grant authorization,” he said.
Wallerstein asserts that the center would not have cost taxpayers any money and that a potential public hazard would have been avoided.
“Now weíre going to be forced to leave suffering animals on the beach, when there was a plan that wouldnít have cost tax-payers anything,” he said.
He is hopeful that through public awareness there might be a way to treat sick animals and avoid public hazards. In the meantime, the Whale Rescue Team, the Marine Mammal Care Center and other public agencies will continue to rescue and treat animals as resources allow.
In the event of an emergency involving a seabird or marine mammal, call (800) 399-4253 (800-39-WHALE).