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Wildlife Rescue Volunteers Valued

December 14, 1997

It's not surprising that compelling photos of starving sea lion pups ("El Nino Starves Sea Lions, Seals," Dec. 8) elicited a significant public response ("Plight of Seals, Sea Lions Stirs Public Outcry," Dec. 9). Lisa Fernandez's reports were excellent and timely, but statements made by some agency officials and scientists were self-serving, misleading or missed the mark completely.

As one of the hundreds of rescue volunteers who, according to Jeff Laake of the National Marine Fisheries Service, have been "wasting their time" by providing vehicles, fuel, time and effort to save stranded marine mammals and seabirds, I would like to respond that we aren't wasting our time or anyone else's. Instead, we are providing valuable assistance to under-budgeted animal control agencies that are overwhelmed by the number of stranded mammals and injured birds needing help or protection.

Starvation--a slow, miserable death--takes weeks before severe dehydration and tissue and enzyme breakdowns bring about a final, blessed loss of consciousness. It is heart-wrenching to see any animal starve, so the current public outcry merely provides further proof, if more was needed, that we are still a compassionate people.

However, changing laws would not protect these creatures from future mass starvations. Their predicament is a result of complex weather and ocean water interactions, and what effect human-induced global warming has on El Nino phenomena remains an open question.

But that there is a human factor in this real life drama is a given. The article mentions that seals and sea lions compete with one another for the same fish, as they have done for over 30 millennium, yet no mention is made of the species that vacuums more protein out of the ocean than all of the marine mammals combined, Homo sapiens.

For the record: Point Mugu Wildlife Center volunteers are dedicated to rescuing, rehabbing and releasing back into their natural environment only those animals that strand themselves along our still-beautiful coastline. We are gearing up to help human-injured marine mammals and seabirds and are not in the least interested in tinkering with biological populations.

Do we triage animals suffering from "natural" calamities? Not necessarily, because those natural afflictions often force these dying animals to haul out on public beaches where people refuse to leave them alone or allow them to die in peace, often posing alongside them for photos (risking bites and exposure to dangerous, communicable diseases), siccing their dogs on them for amusement, throwing stones at them, forcing them back into the water, and the list of insults and violations of unenforced laws goes on and on.

Wildlife rescue organizations are insufficiently funded to "play God" by attempting to alter the natural order of things. We accept that some animals are destined to expire for one reason or another; some creatures simply arrive unfit for an extended life on earth. That is all part of life's rich pageant.

Volunteer rescue organizations are essentially humane organizations, and are not, despite published opinions to the contrary, wasting our volunteers', members' or supporters' time, or anyone else's, by caring for suffering animals. Our organizations are assets to local communities, helping local animal control agencies protect people and wildlife from one another.

So, rather than call for a sweeping change of laws to protect these creatures, laws that are mostly unenforced, this latest public outcry should instead manifest itself in contributions to the growing number of nonprofit wildlife rescue organizations up and down the coast. They would gladly welcome any contributions of time, money, expertise or material to help them with their often misunderstood and underappreciated work.

DANIEL HAYES PEARSON

President, Board of Directors

Point Mugu Wildlife Center

*

While it is sad to see the suffering of the sea lions ("El Nino Starves Sea Lions, Seals," Dec. 8), more damage would be done to the population as a whole by increased human interference in their primary breeding areas.

They breed in these areas partly because humans are not there. With more than 100,000 pinnipeds breeding annually on San Miguel Island, the potential for disruption is too great a risk.

We should let nature take its course. This natural selection acts as a check on overpopulation. Pinniped populations are high at this time, and will rebound from this event in the coming years.

If we disrupt the natural cycle, even greater numbers of sea lions will possibly die due to overpopulation pressures on the food supply. As emotionally difficult as it may be, we can best help these animals by leaving them alone.

DAVID BEGUN

Westlake Village

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