It’s simply amazing what the federal government allows. Boaters shoot these animals with sling-shots and paint-ball guns. People who move to coasts and marinas and then complain about marine animals are like people who move into a beautiful wooded area, and then complain about the coyotes and other wildlife there. Maybe they should have stayed in the concrete jungle. They do all sorts of awful things to keep these animals off the boat docks where these animals come to rest, warm up and just chill out.
Marine Animal Rescue, part of Friends of Animals, has specialists on the beaches every day, rain or shine, responding to calls from people and agencies throughout Los Angeles County. MAR’s intrepid leader, Peter Wallerstein, has personally rescued more than 4,000 mammals and birds on the coast of Southern California. The stranded or injured animals have included whales entangled in gill netting, and sea lions suffering from infections, or domoic acid poisoning related to water temperature changes and unexpectedly large algal blooms. There have been stranded dolphins, emaciated sea lions, elephant and harbor seals. Peter has undertaken the riskiest of rescues on jetties and in flood control channels. Friends of Animals and Marine Animal Rescue are in the process of creating a new, state-of-the-art rescue and care center. This will augment Peter’s ability to help marine animals. I caught Peter for a telephone conversation on March 21, 2011, and am delighted to share it with our readers.
I was reading one of your rescue reports on our website a few weeks ago,
Peter, and you mentioned that the seal you rescued was the victim of a “seal
PW: Yes. Seal bombs are explosive devices provided to commercial and sometimes sport-anglers by the government’s National Marine Fisheries Service. They’re supposed to be used to keep animals away from commercial nets and line. They are lit and thrown off the boat into the water, scaring the animals. I am sure just the concussion of the explosion, if they are used in the legal way, is horrific for these animals.
And sometimes these explosives are not used in the legal way. Now and then someone will take a seal bomb and put it in a dead fish, light the bomb, then feed the dead fish to a seal or a sea lion . The fish then explodes in the animal’s mouth; usually this kills the animal immediately, but too often causes severe injury — which results in a slow, agonizing death for these animals.
How often do you encounter seal bomb injuries in your rescue work?
PW: Most of the time this happens when these boats are way out at sea, so the incident goes unreported. Thus, we see only a few a year. I’m sending a photo; it shows how the lower jaw of this beautiful sea lion was just left hanging. She hadn’t been able to eat. It’s a horrific thing to see.
Another sea lion, who weighed about 400 pounds when we found him on a dock in San Pedro in late 2009, we rescued using a floating net. He had a severe mouth injury too. Most victims of seal bombs have no chance of survival and rehabilitation. Good news for this one, though: we were able to repair his jaw, and give him a second chance.
What other kinds of physical assaults on marine mammals do you encounter?
PW: We get some shootings. We have net or line entanglements. We find animals with packing straps around their necks, hooks in the eye sockets. Those are injuries, caused directly by humans.
I’ve read that it’s even legal to use things like sling-shots against marine animals.
PW: It’s simply amazing what the federal government allows. Boaters shoot these animals with sling-shots and paint-ball guns. People who move to coasts and marinas and then complain about marine animals are like people who move into a beautiful wooded area, and then complain about the coyotes and other wildlife there. Maybe they should have stayed in the concrete jungle. They do all sorts of awful things to keep these animals off the boat docks where these animals come to rest, warm up and just chill out.
Do you interact with the people who are catching fish there where you work?
PW: Yes. I have been a vegan for decades, so there are obviously differences in the way they and I view animals, but many of these people do report animal injuries to me. Sometimes, I’ll even depend on one to help me rescue an animal. Many of them don’t like the things they see their peers do.
Once, when on a rescue call near a gill net, I got shot at. I’ve been in verbal confrontations, and I’ve had to duck for my life.
You bear witness to more animal suffering than the average person, Peter. Is
there joy in this work?
PW: There is joy in helping an individual animal. There is joy in putting the information out there about a shooting, and the shooting stops and there is an investigation; all of this brings a lot of attention to the issues. My work throughout the years, rescuing animals out of fish nets, and all of the visuals I’ve brought to the media -- it really helps. California banned gill nets in state waters in 1990. Those kinds of things are enormously satisfying.
I recently rescued a peregrine falcon. Turned out the bird had been shot. I did some investigative work on my own, and discovered that some gulls were shot in the same area. I’ve prompted an official investigation into the shootings.
But mostly, it’s helping one animal at a time, on a daily basis. That’s the best. That’s what eases my own pain.
The big project on your plate is the new marine mammal care center.
PW: Yes. Now we won’t just be rescuing animals, but we’ll be caring for them as well, with the standards they deserve. We are going to have great people who care about animals — top professionals in this field. We’ll have two full time vets, who are among the best in the entire United States. We’ll have a full animal care staff, an operations manager; and everyone has marine mammal rehabilitation experience. We’ll also be training volunteers, so we’ll be able to help even more animals.
Plus, we’ll have another platform to deal with these various issues — like seal bombs — and be able to do more research and bring awareness of these issues to the public. We’ll be able to effect change at a completely different level.
How can we help you effect change?
PW: The National Marine Fisheries Service is directly responsible for allowing things like seal bombs to happen. Contact them directly. Tell them seal bombs are deplorable.
And while we’re on the subject, the best way to effect change is to become vegan!
Certainly so. If fish aren’t being caught for us, the nets and lines and seal bombs aren’t deployed in our name. And we are saying “no” to the farm waste runoff that impacts the marine ecology.