By Vince Echavaria
In his more than 25 years of rescuing sick or injured marine life in Santa Monica Bay, Peter Wallerstein has commonly relied on the aid of various agencies to better the chances of success in a given incident.
Wallerstein and his Marine Animal Rescue organization are considered the go-to source for attending to area seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea birds and even whales caught in unfortunate circumstances. But, many times, other rescue agencies such as Los Angeles County Lifeguards, Sheriff’s Department, Harbor Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard are right by MAR’s side to help bring the mission to a safe conclusion.
The Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach has worked with Wallerstein’s group numerous times over the past two decades, providing boats and other support, but Wallerstein says some members of the agency will soon be more directly involved in local marine animal rescues.
A partnership between the Coast Guard and National Marine Fisheries Service, which partners with Marine Animal Rescue, has allowed for Coast Guard Los Angeles/Long Beach members to receive specialized training to be able to work with MAR on some of its calls, including whale disentanglements and seal/sea lion rescues.
Wallerstein said he is very excited about the new working relationship with the Coast Guard, which he believes will add to his group’s effectiveness and help ensure that every sick, injured or entangled animal gets the best possible chance of surviving.
“It’s not just going to help the animals, but I also get the satisfaction that my work is acknowledged and that the Coast Guard acknowledges it and is willing to work with me,” Wallerstein said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve come a long way and this relationship is going to be really great. I’m just really ecstatic and excited about the potential.”
Lt. Jennifer Osburn of Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach noted that one of the Coast Guard’s primary missions is “living marine resources,” and the agency is encouraged at the opportunity to have four of its members receive animal rescue training through the partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“I think it’s great; one of our main missions is living marine resources and these certainly fall within that,” Osburn said. “Anything we can do to help efforts that (Marine Fisheries Service) is responsible for, we’ll certainly do what we can.”
Wallerstein said the new working relationship was initiated by Coast Guard Ensign Brandon Earhart after they met at a training session. Earhart had the chance to help rescue a trapped sea lion and was thrilled at the result, Wallerstein said.
While the Coast Guard is not known for conducting rescues of marine life, the agency hopes to increase its partnerships and help groups like MAR by having members trained to respond to specific incidents, Osburn said.
Much of the training offered to Coast Guard personnel will be hands-on, and they will gain experience in how to work with the animals simply by being involved in rescue missions, Wallerstein said.
“With these guys I’m going to be confident that they’ll be able to learn a lot during the rescue and do it safely,” the MAR director said.
He believes the new trainees can be an asset for seal and sea lion calls, but says their most significant contribution could be in regards to whale rescues. Members of the Coast Guard are already knowledgeable about hazards on the water and are skilled at working with ropes, knives and other equipment that may be required to free whales – among the most dangerous of rescues, Wallerstein said.
“If you make a mistake with a seal or sea lion you’re either going to get bit or you’re going to lose your chance to help the animal. But if you make a mistake with a whale rescue you can die,” he said.
Coast Guard resources such as boats and helicopters can also be effective in locating migrating whales and enabling rescue groups to reach the mammals in need of rescue much faster, he added.
“I definitely think it’s going to enhance our operations and expedite the response,” Wallerstein said of the new working relationship with the Coast Guard.