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New CEO eyes expansion for Laguna marine mammal rehabilitation center

Pacific Marine Mammal Center CEO Peter Chang.
Peter Chang, the new chief executive of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, says he’d like to expand the center’s efforts in education, ocean stewardship and research.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

A new chief executive is heading the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, and he plans to expand the Laguna Beach facility and boost its reputation.

Peter Chang officially began work in mid-July, though he didn’t start full time until Wednesday.

He comes to the center after serving as executive director of the Child Creativity Lab, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit that seeks to inspire children to be critical thinkers, innovators and leaders. He also has a background in corporate strategic planning, working for Allergan and Edwards Lifesciences. He has a bachelor’s degree from USC and master’s degrees from UCLA and the University of Rochester in New York.

Chang’s entry as CEO enables the center’s executive director, Keith Matassa, to transfer into a new role as director of zoological and conservation programs. Matassa will focus on expanding the center’s animal care, research and collaborative efforts, leaving Chang to focus on overseeing the facility’s physical expansion, fundraising, day-to-day management and community outreach.


Chang said in an interview that he’s not going to “change the core” of what PMMC is all about. The center on Laguna Canyon Road, founded in 1971, was California’s first marine mammal rehabilitation facility, and it will remain true to its goal of rehabilitating and releasing marine mammals back into the sea, he said.

However, Chang said he’d like to expand the center’s efforts in education, ocean stewardship and research, aspects that ultimately will have larger regional and national effects and enhance the facility’s reputation.

PMMC’s roughly dozen staff members “have amazing backgrounds in marine science,” Chang said. “We’re trying to leverage that more.”

Publishing more in scientific journals will be part of boosting the reputation, he added.


The center also is looking to add classrooms and more research labs, Chang said.

To show its commitment to the environment, Chang said PMMC wants to install its own water treatment plant. The center uses a lot of water — 15,000 gallons a day on average — to make it suitable for marine life.

A treatment plant would reclaim dirty water and filter it, allowing PMMC to use significantly less water — 1,500 to 2,250 gallons a day.

“It tells the community that we’re so in the belief of our conservation goals that we’re investing in the right thing to do,” Chang said.

Chang said the center’s staff and approximately 100 regular volunteers are “the backbone of everything we do. Talking with them makes me realize how special this organization is.”

“It’s amazing to see an animal that’s half its typical weight come in and see it released,” he said. “But really, what’s special is all the love that’s being put in to take care of these animals.”

Bradley Zint is a contributor to Times Community News.