After rescuing marine mammals between Malibu and San Pedro for the past 23 years, Whale Rescue Team founder Peter Wallerstein has decided to merge with the larger animal advocacy organization, Friends of Animals, with the intention of securing and solidifying all that the Whale Rescue Team has worked for through the years.

“Now, it is time to take our vision to the next level, one that ensures that distressed marine wildlife in our community will continue to receive the highest level of care for years to come,” Wallerstein said in an e-mail to his supporters. “At some point in the future, this project must continue to progress without my presence.

“I feel that I would not have fulfilled my personal and professional goals, were this project to end when I am gone.”

Although the Whale Rescue Team has a number of dedicated volunteers, Wallerstein has essentially been a one-man show for all these years and has devoted his life to answering every call that comes in to (800) 399-4253 (800-39-WHALE ).

Anyone that’s been around boating or the marine environment in this area has most likely seen Wallerstein at one time or another standing in front of a newly formed crowd performing a dangerous rescue on an injured or sick animal on a dock, beach or swim step.

With the assistance and cooperation of other local agencies, Wallerstein is the undisputed expert in situations where large marine mammals are in need of rescue and when public safety is compromised. He has rescued 40-foot whales many miles offshore and wrangled 500-pound sea lions on a public beach. For decades he has tirelessly traveled the local coastline aiding and rescuing these creatures.

Through these years, Wallerstein’s strength has been his selfless proactive drive to rescue sick and ailing animals, but if a criticism could be cast, it would have to be aimed at the administrative side of his work. Due to the number of rescues he performs and lack of manpower in the organization, Wallerstein has always struggled to find time to acquire funding that would allow for more substantial equipment and staff.

While he had a successful fundraising at the Epoxy Box in Venice this past year that helped him make some much-needed upgrades in specialized equipment, he is most concerned with attending to calls and making rescues.

“The merger will allow Peter to focus on rescuing distressed and injured mammals, with Friends of Animals (FOA) overseeing marketing and fundraising,” said a spokesperson for FOA.

For Wallerstein, nothing could be better. For the first time in decades he can look towards the future without the personal burden of constantly having to keep track of finances and marketing issues. He can now focus on what he has always been driven to do: rescue in-need animals in unique predicaments.

“Here’s a guy who puts himself out there every single day of the year,” said Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral. “He gets these animals the best care and a chance to be cured and released into nature again.”

Feral, who leads this organization, which has been around since 1957, is looking forward to the partnership between the two organizations. Friends of Animals is an international advocacy group that takes on many issues affecting a diverse array of animals. From the ocean’s majestic dolphin to Africa’s great apes, the organization draws no geographical boundaries.

“We share the vision and the high standards that he has for treating injured, orphaned and sick animals, and what he needs is the support we can offer,” Feral said of the merger.

As for Wallerstein, he can breathe a little easier, knowing the administrative tasks are well in hand, but he is still quick to remind people of how much there is to do.

“This merger will give us an even stronger voice for the animals,” he says. “Yet, while Friends of Animals will provide funding for the project, we continue to need support. Now is not the time to sit back, relax and feel the job is complete.

“Our history and our track record undeniably establish our success, yet we still have much work to do. There are still major gaps in the ‘stranding network’ that leave suffering animals on the beach; gaps that can only be filled with our energy and the public’s continued support.

“New rescuers must be trained, new equipment must be developed, and a dedicated marine animal rescue facility needs to be built.

“The merge with Friends of Animals is a major step into a bright future, but to fulfill our obligation to these animals, public interest and donations must continue to be a part of that success.”