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Summer 2003 - Act•ionLine

by Peter Wallerstein | Summer 2003

On Patrol with Whale Rescue Team

Just ahead of us we could see the thrashing of a mother gray whale and her calf, hopelessly entangled in a commercial gill net. We knew they were doomed unless someone intervened, and fast! We began with the mother, by cutting and tugging at the net. After numerous attempts, she broke free. The baby, however, still encumbered by the weight of the net, was in trouble. The anxious mother disappeared under our boat, and when the 40-foot whale surfaced, she lifted her baby out of the water, allowing him to grab a quick breath of air. This gave us the opportunity to begin cutting the young whale out of the net. Soon he was free, and both mother and calf swam off to live another day.

Whale Rescue Team has come along way since the mid-1980s, when we began our efforts to free entangled whales. No one else, we were amazed, was coming to their aid, a failure that annually sentenced dozens of whales to die a slow agonizing death. The situation for dolphins, seals and sea lions in our county wasn't much better.

For decades, marine wildlife response in Los Angeles County was in the hands of local animal control and, believe it or not, parking enforcement divisions. Calls for assistance received low priority and often went unanswered. I formed Whale Rescue Team to replace this with an efficient and compassionate system. It hasn't been easy. We have had to deal with resistance, even threats of prosecution, from those who wanted to retain the status quo. Because of our success in the field, however, WRT has prevailed. We now serve as the primary response team for nearly 80 miles of Los Angeles County coastline.

Spring of 2002 brought a crisis to California sea lions, as well as dolphins and pelicans. Pregnant sea lions were beaching, suffering seizures, disorientation and paralysis from domoic acid poisoning. During the crisis, WRT volunteers rescued over 100 animals, including 68 pregnant sea lions, four dolphins and dozens of pelicans. Over the past six years, WRT has saved over 1,000 marine mammals and hundreds of sea birds. In 2003, we¹ve already rescued over 50 sea lions, four elephant seals and dozens of birds.

WRT depends primarily on a small-dedicated membership for support. There is no money in our budget for self-promotion, so most of our membership comes from bystanders who observe us in action. This poses a problem, for while we are involved daily in rescues, no one is fundraising. We believe that if more people knew of our work, we would receive the support we so desperately need to continue our efforts.

We are proud of our success, not only with helping thousands of animals, but in raising the local standard of care for marine wildlife to match any in the nation. There are many challenges ahead, as marine wildlife is continually threatened by pollution, net entanglement, and other human and natural problems. With help from the public, WRT will meet those challenges head on, giving every injured or orphaned marine animal the best chance for survival.

Contact:
Peter Wallerstein
Whale Rescue Team
415 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, Calif. 90290

Peter Wallerstein

Act•ionLine Summer 2003

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