More than four years after Marineland in Rancho Palos Verdes closed and its killer whales and other star attractions were trucked away, a volunteer group has returned to the site to run the only first-aid station for sick and injured sea mammals in the county.
But group members say the move is only temporary. They have bigger plans.
The group, Organization for the Respect and Care of Animals of the Sea, expects to be operating a more grandiose, permanent care center for marine animals in San Pedro, perhaps by next summer. That center will be funded with $3 million donated by the former owner of Marineland, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The company angered many ORCAS members when it unceremoniously closed the landmark aquatic park.
"It is a peculiar twist of fate," said ORCAS president Connie Lufkin-Barr. "Here we are back on the same plot of land we fought to keep" open as an aquatic park and the benefactor will be the same company that hauled Marineland's animals off to Sea World in San Diego.
Lufkin-Barr said the group had been working diligently for months to open a temporary-care station at the closed park. The station will replace one now operating at Dockweiler State Beach, which ORCAS has helped run. It treated 80 marine mammals alone within a three-month span earlier this year and was the only one of its kind in Los Angles County. The next closest facilities that care for such animals are in Orange and Santa Barbara counties.
Typical patients include seals or sea lions that have contracted a disease or been wounded by a fish hook, a boat or a stingray--one of the mammals' favorite meals. Others are dehydrated after stranding themselves on a beach. Many are youngsters who became separated from their mothers during heavy storms.
ORCAS members, many of whom were once active in the now-defunct Citizens to Save Marineland, this week moved a converted horse trailer and other donated equipment used to treat the animals to the old Marineland site.
The group will mark the opening of the center with a brief public ceremony Saturday at 3 p.m. To draw a crowd--and donations--to the nonprofit group, members will bring two California sea lions to the temporary center at Long Point and release them in the surf.
The sea lions were rescued from Orange County beaches and rehabilitated by another sea mammal care group based in Laguna Beach.
ORCAS plans to operate the center until a permanent marine animal care facility can be built at the old Ft. MacArthur Upper Reservation in San Pedro. The facility is part of a marine science studies center being built by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Lufkin-Barr said. Arizona developer James Monaghan, who now owns the Marineland site, has agreed to let the group stay there for six months or longer free of charge.
Monaghan is presently trying to obtain permission from the city of Rancho Palos Verdes to build a fancy, 450-room resort complex on the land. No timetable for construction has been set.
Until it was shut in February, 1987, Marineland operated the only care center for marine mammals in the Los Angeles area. Seals, sea lions and other marine animals discovered stranded along local shores were brought to the center, nursed back to health and then released back to the ocean.
When the aquatic park closed, ORCAS and Sea World established the temporary station at Dockweiler, where marine animals could receive first aid and, if needed, be trucked to Sea World in San Diego for more intensive care. Sea World was owned by Harcourt until the company sold its Sea World theme parks to Anheuser-Busch in 1989.
Jim Antrim, vice president and general curator at Sea World in San Diego, said that for the past three years the theme park had been paying all the costs to run the Dockweiler first-aid station, including the salaries of two, full-time employees. He said Sea World leased land at Dockweiler from the county on a year-to-year basis, and was contemplating closing it in July. "We spent a lot of time and effort and there was no light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
But ORCAS came to the rescue. Since the group was eager to keep a temporary first-aid station open until the permanent center is built, Sea World agreed to give the group the equipment used at Dockweiler, he said. It also agreed to pay the salaries of the two employees through 1992. The workers will now be employed by ORCAS.
ORCAS was "eager to do it and volunteered to to do," Antrim said. "What better way to get their foot in the door?"
Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees the treatment of stranded marine animals, said the agency has granted ORCAS authorization to run the aid station.
ORCAS' facility at the former Marineland site will operate the same way as at Dockweiler, with seriously injured animals stabilized and then taken to Sea World.
Lufkin-Barr estimated that it will cost ORCAS, which has about 125 active volunteers, about $200,000 annually to operate the station. That figure includes the cost of various medicines, insurance, maintenance expenses for three vehicles and security services. Under the group's arrangement with Monaghan, it must provide security officers at the site from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Lufkin-Barr said the group needs $3,000 per month to run the facility, and has only enough money to pay expenses for a few months.
The permanent center will be built at the old Ft. MacArthur site. After it closed Marineland, Harcourt gave $3 million to the school district--$1.2 million to build the care center and $1.7 million for a trust fund to keep it in operation.
Dominic Shambra, who oversees capital improvement projects for the school district, said the district expects to award a contract to construct the center in the near future. Construction could start next month, and be finished within a year, he said.