Marine mammal crusader felt a special obligation to save an elusive 390-pounder in Marina del Rey

By Joe Piasecki

Thanks to a determined group of animal rescuers, a 390-pound sea lion that was slowly being strangled by a fishing line around his neck is on the mend and once again holding court in Marina del Rey harbor.

Peter Wallerstein, director of the nonprofit Marine Animal Rescue, had been trying to capture the big guy for weeks, but he’d always swim away before rescuers could get close enough to try.

Or so it went until Hornblower Cruises & Events Capt. Chuck Myers tipped off Wallerstein last Wednesday that the elusive ocean mammal was resting on a boat slip alongside the Lady Hornblower, the fishing line still causing a deep gash in his neck.

Not to be foiled again, Wallerstein had assistant Adam Fox quietly swim a floating net into place at the end of the slip and stand by to pull it closed in an instant. Then Wallerstein and assistant Artie Wong charged the sea lion, who fled by diving right into the net.

A team from Baywatch Marina del Rey jumped in to transport Wallerstein’s spunky catch to the boat ramp and into a crate.

Veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro removed the fishing line and, because the sea lion was so strong and active, released him at White Point Beach the same day.

By Sunday afternoon he was back in Marina del Rey, where Wallerstein spotted him lounging on a boat slip.

“Rescues like these — where there’s fishing line, gill nets or packing straps involved — are especially satisfying because man caused the problem directly, so we have to do our best to save them,” Wallerstein said.

More good news is that Wallerstein is finding fewer sea lions in need of rescue this year, despite an outbreak of domoic acid poisoning this winter from algae blooms likely fed by stormwater runoff pollution. Wallerstein rescued more than 400 sea lions off the Los Angeles and Orange County coastline in 2016, compared to about 270 so far this year.

Call (800) 39-WHALE to report a sick or injured sea animal to Marine Animal Rescue.