A weakened harbor seal that had been trapped at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Scattergood Generating Station in Playa del Rey was saved by a marine animal rescuer two weeks after the seal entered the facility through a pipe in the ocean.
The 100-pound male harbor seal was rescued from an inlet bay of the facility early Wednesday, April 5th, when Peter Wallerstein of the Whale Rescue Team used a baited cage to trap the animal.
Wallerstein said the seal, which appeared “weak and stressed,” was taken to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro for examination and later released back into the ocean Friday, April 7th.
The harbor seal had entered the Scattergood plant about two weeks earlier through an intake pipe one-quarter of a mile offshore and gotten trapped in an inlet bay, where Department of Water and Power employees spotted the animal.
After plant employees were unsuccessful in their attempt to rescue the seal on their own with an on-site cage, they contacted Wallerstein to help with the rescue effort, Scattergood plant manager John Vallow said.
But Wallerstein said he should have been notified as soon as the seal was discovered because there may be “health detriments” to an animal when it is trapped for an extended period.
He said he was initially told that the trapped animal was a sea lion, but the rescue techniques are vastly different for seals and sea lions.
“You have to alter the rescue techniques for the species,” Wallerstein said.
“Sea lions are much more agile and are better climbers, but harbor seals can’t climb.”
When Wallerstein located the seal in the inlet bay, he said the animal appeared “tired and hypothermic” and was resting its body against the concrete wall.
“He was barely alive and trying to keep his head above water,” Wallerstein said.
Rescuers lowered a floating cage into the bay. The cage had an open door that would close to trap the animal once it was inside.
Wallerstein also picked up bait from a Marina del Rey bait dock to put in the cage as a way to lure the seal into the trap.
“I knew he was tired but also hungry, so I hoped that would lure him in,” he said.
Wallerstein said he received a call at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 5th, that the bait had worked and the seal was in the cage.
Wallerstein — who also rescued a 400-pound sea lion from Scattergood last year using a small boat — has rescued 69 marine animals this year.
Vallow said Department of Water and Power officials are considering installing “seal bars” to help prevent other marine animals from entering the pipes, but they will also call Wallerstein as soon as any incidents occur.
“We have now instituted a policy that he will be immediately notified,” Vallow said.