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On a breezy evening off the Santa Barbara shore, the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) held its second-ever fundraiser at the quaint Oreana Winery. It was a gala event, with the Kinsella Band jamming in the background with a stream of partygoers enjoying sumptuous treats and libations served up by well-known local restaurants and caterers, such as the Sojourner Café, The Brew House, Pure Joy and Rincon Caterers.

An estimated 200 participants tested their luck by bidding on items donated from local vendors like Patagonia, Decker’s and McConnell’s Ice Cream, laid out on tables at a silent auction to benefit sea mammals stranded up and down the coast.

“The first one we had last year was on the Condor Express, Capt. Fred Benko is a member of our board (CIMWI), so he’s very integral in what we do,” explains Sam Dover, board presidentveterinarian of the April 9 event sponsored in part by Benko’s popular whale-watching expeditions.

Founded in 2003, CIMWI has been instrumental in the offshore rescuing of sea mammals in recent years. Operating off the Gaviota Coast on the campus of Del Mar School built in 1928, the organization is readying itself for some major repairs. Last year, CIMWI received $100,000 in grant money it hopes to use for the facility.

“We’re basically rehabilitating that school because it’s been vacant for 30 years; we’ve taken that money and reinstalled the infrastructure with electricity,” explains Dover.

There have been some astonishing results, as the 33 sea mammals that were rescued in 2007 rose to a whopping 95 in 2009. Many of these include dolphins, various seals and whales. “A lot of pups (baby seals) were weaned early, so that could be related to the lack of fish for the parents,” says Dover. The theory being, that the parents searched the coastline for food and ended up stranded and possibly malnourished in coastal waters.

One of the programs that CIMWI is concerned with benefits the survival of both human and sea-mammals, and is referred to as One Health. “We are all interconnected, the health of the ocean, the health of the people,” says Dover. The program focuses on the effect of drugs and monitors the resistance of both species of mammals to antibiotics. One of Dover’s fears is that perhaps we’ve gone too far in testing animal and human resistance to powerful drugs, something that may be difficult to dislodge from our ecosystem.

Another issue that is of big concern is the presence of Domoic acid on the coast. This marine toxin was particularly spotlighted as a problem in 1998, when many sea lions were found dead along the Central Coast. The coexistence of man and marine life will be an ongoing issue along the coast – one that CIMWI hopes to continue exploring in its quest for mutually beneficial cohabitation between both species of mammal.