Letter: Peter Chang-Savior of Marine Mammals

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Editor’s Note: the writer of the following letter is an 11-year-old resident of Irvine

The world is suffering from climate change, pollution, and overconsumption. Therefore, many heroes from all over the world are trying their best to improve the condition of the Earth. One of those people is Peter Chang, chief executive officer of PMMC, short for Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Chang and his team at PMMC are not only rescuing troubled marine mammals but are also expanding areas in research and education to help marine wildlife.

PMMC started in 1971, long before the public began focusing on environmental issues. They were the first marine mammal rehabilitation facility in California. It started when Jim Stauffer, a lifeguard, rescued a sea lion with lungworms. Since then, they have rescued marine mammals along the Southern California coast. Chang says, “PMMC’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release sick or hurt marine mammals.” PMMC recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and has saved more than 10,000 marine mammals.

Chang expanded PMMC’s efforts in education. Amanda Walker, the community education programs manager at PMMC, says, “We have summer camps and after school programs. We are also working with 14 different children’s hospitals in the United States to teach kids more about marine mammals.” During the pandemic, PMMC also created virtual classes to educate kids of all ages. “It was hard because we had to learn how to replicate PMMC’s live experience and how to make the classes effective,” Chang says.

Chang’s efforts to preserve marine life don’t stop with education; he focuses on research projects as well. PMMC currently works with several universities, such as UC Davis and University of Florida. “Rescue is reactive, but research is proactive,” Chang says. “If we are able to solve one of the problems, it can have a huge impact on so many marine mammals.”

One of the PMMC’s research projects is concerning plastic pollution due to COVID-19. Masks, gloves, and other protective items are everywhere in the ocean. Many marine mammals are dying because of plastic waste, and their babies are being left alone. Veterinarian Kaylee Brown says, “The majority of rescued marine mammals are pups. Pups are the ones suffering the most. It’s hard to find food deep underwater without the vital skill sets.”

You don’t need superpowers to be a hero. It only requires willingness and persistence. Chang and PMMC are dedicated to improving marine mammals’ welfare through education and research. Chang has been expressive about his aspiration: “My vision is to continue to make the biggest impact we can. Our goal is to protect every marine mammal out there, and we are far from that. However, we can make it happen if we work hard together.”

Audrey Kim, Irvine

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