Marine Mammal Rescues in California
Last year was one of the busiest and most rewarding years for Whale Rescue Team. Our volunteers rescued 182 marine mammals and dozens of sea birds. The vast majority of these rescues are conducted in the spring, and so at the start of 2004, we began to prepare as best we could for the challenges we knew full well were ahead of us.
January and February were relatively quiet months for rescues. Then, with one phone call, the situation changed dramatically.
It all started in early March when Whale Rescue Team received a call from the Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol. An injured sea lion had taken up residence on the Harbor Patrol and Baywatch boat dock. I arrived at the scene a short time later to find a 60 lb. sea lion suffering from deep wounds caused by remnants of a monofiliment gillnet imbedded around the entire circumference of her neck. Not only was it obvious that infection had already set in, but the net was also in the process of strangling her. We knew that with this kind of injury, without our intervention she would die
Our rescue attempts began with a slow approach as she rested on the narrow dock. Unlike beach rescues, those attempted on docks are far more difficult, for it’s practically impossible to cut off every avenue of escape. After our third or fourth rescue attempt, she pretty much knew all of our tricks. Hour after hour, day after day, she eluded capture. As the days wore on, it was obvious her condition was worsening. Green puss oozed from her eyes, and in all likelihood she was septic.
On more than one occasion, we came within inches of getting her. It was very frustrating. We only wanted the best for this young sea lion, yet in her mind we were predators wanting to do her harm. Then, one Saturday morning, while making my routine morning stop at Redondo, I found her resting by herself on the dock. My adrenalin was pumping as I quietly crawled behind a small container not more than ten feet from her. When the time was right, I made my move. To my amazement, instead of darting into the water, she turned and looked directly at me. That hesitation on her part finally allowed me to net her. As I threw the net over her, I remember uttering, “Not again. You’re not getting away from me again.”
Within an hour of her rescue this little sea lion was receiving treatment for her wounds. The first few days we were cautiously optimistic. She was socializing with other sea lions at the rehab center and seemed to be doing well. Yet, a little more than a week after her rescue, she died from her wounds. As human beings, her death hurt us deeply. But as rescuers, we know we gave her our very best. Her death will not deter our efforts. In reality, it inspires us to greater heights.
Just a few days after that rescue the Whale Rescue Team received another call from the Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol. They advised us that another sea lion, suffering from the same kind wounds as the pervious one, was lying on their dock. I had hoped this was a late April Fool’s joke. Sadly, it wasn’t. Rescue efforts began immediately.
This was not the way we wanted to start the Spring.
In March, Whale Rescue Team volunteers rescued eleven Elephant seal pups, nine sea lions and 13 birds, including a Mute swan. Most of those animals are doing well and some have already been released back into the wild .
We don’t know what challenges lie ahead of us. We do know, however, that whatever they are, Whale Rescue Team volunteers will be there to meet them head on. We also know that we can’t do all of this alone. Our small but effective organization depends on individuals like you; people who care about the creatures with which we share this planet.
If you believe Whale Rescue Team’s work and wish to support our efforts to respond to the distress calls of injured or orphaned marine animals, then we need your help. Information on how to contact us can be found below. You can be assured that day after day, week after week, and year after year, Whale Rescue Team volunteers will give each and every animal our very best efforts.
Whale Rescue Team
P.O. Box 821
El Segundo, CA 90245