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Injured Seal Twice Eludes Its Rescuers

Times Staff Writer

An injured seal that came ashore twice this week eluded would-be rescuers, but animal control officers expect to capture it as it gets weaker.

And if they do, a system is in place to care for the seal and other injured marine mammals, officials said, even though a permanent replacement for the animal-care center at the defunct Marineland aquatic park has yet to open.

The seal, with a large gash near his rear flipper, came ashore Monday and Tuesday mornings at Torrance Beach. Animal control officers from the SPCA-Southern California Humane Society in Hawthorne and from the city of Redondo Beach tried unsuccessfully to capture it, both with a net and with a pole attached to a noose.

Each time the animal eluded capture and scooted back into the water.

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“He was very aggressive and would have bitten me if I’d gotten close enough,” said SPCA officer Richard Harris, who estimated that the young male animal was between 140 and 160 pounds. “He was injured and afraid and tired.”

Harris said he believes the seal will keep coming ashore and eventually will be caught as he becomes weaker.

The seal’s plight was first noticed by Glenda Urmacher of Rolling Hills Estates, who said she has been a regular morning beach walker for seven years. She said she spotted the seal at 10:30 a.m. Monday near the lifeguard station at the end of Vista del Mar.

“This is a white seal, absolutely beautiful,” she said. “I looked at its eyes, and when it put its head down on the sand, I felt like crying. If I could have picked it up and taken it to a vet I would have.”

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Urmacher said she believes the seal will die unless it gets help, although SPCA officer Harris said the wound--probably caused by the blade of a powerboat--is not fatal and will heal itself. He said the seal should be treated with antibiotics.

Urmacher telephoned several public agencies--including the Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol and the California Department of Fish and Game--and a veterinarian.

The patrol and Redondo Beach animal control officers arrived at 12:30 p.m. and tried to capture the seal, according to lifeguard John Morton. He said the animal “growled and showed his teeth” and went in and out of the water twice before swimming away.

Harris said he was called on Tuesday, when the seal came ashore farther south. He said he and Redondo Beach animal control officer Jeannine Santanen spent an hour trying to catch the seal until it headed out to sea.

The SPCA and city animal control units are authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service to capture sea animals that come ashore, and those agencies should be called when marine animals come ashore, said James Lecky, wildlife biologist with the agency’s Terminal Island office. Sick or injured animals requiring treatment are taken to centers providing medical help.

The care center for the Los Angeles area is currently at Dockweiler State Beach near El Segundo, a small, temporary facility that was opened in mid-April to fill the gap created by the Marineland shutdown.

The $100,000-a-year Dockweiler operation--at the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors maintenance yard--is paid for by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, the owner of Sea World aquatic parks and the company that closed Marineland in February, 1987. The animal care unit was shut down in May when the site was sold.

For nearly a year, there was no care facility in the area specifically for marine mammals, and injured animals were taken to animal shelters, according to Connie Lufkin, president of ORCAS (Organization for Respect and Care of Animals of the Sea). The group began as a citizens organization to save Marineland, but it is now working with the Los Angeles Unified School District to develop a permanent animal care facility in San Pedro that Harcourt Brace Jovanovich will finance.

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Harcourt Brace Jovanovich has put $3 million in trust to build and maintain a permanent animal-care center on property at the old Ft. MacArthur Upper Reservation in San Pedro, land that the school district has leased from the federal government.

Dom Shambra, special programs administrator for the school district, said the facility will include three pools for animals being treated and a classroom where students will learn about animal care.

Lufkin and Shambra hope the center will open next summer, but it could be later. The Dockweiler center will close when the new facility opens.

In the meantime, injured animals transported to Dockweiler receive first aid and if immediate care is needed a veterinarian is called, said Don Zumwalt, senior animal care specialist in charge of the center.

Taken to Sea World

The animals are trucked within 24 hours to the care center at Sea World in San Diego for further treatment and recuperation. He said Dockweiler receives sea animals--most often injured by powerboats or gunshots--from Ventura County to Laguna Beach.

A horse trailer at the center has been converted into cages and can accommodate up to three animals, Zumwalt said, adding that only 17 or 18 seals or sea lions have been brought in by animal control officers since the operation opened in April.

Animal control experts caution that people should not approach a beached sea animal, no matter how docile it may seem. “There’s the danger of a bite,” said Douglas Buck, supervisor of the SPCA in Hawthorne.

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Nooses and nets are standard equipment in nabbing animals. Tranquilizing devices are not used because if a drugged animal escapes back in the water, it could become unconscious and drown.

Authorities say that mild winters in recent years have kept down the number of beached sick or injured sea animals. For example, Redondo Beach retrieves fewer than five a year, according to the animal control unit. In stormy years, such as 1983, many sick or injured seals and sea lions come ashore malnourished because they have lost their food supply.


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