Humble Beginnings

All of us at Pacific Marine Mammal Center are very proud of our beginnings.  Pacific Marine Mammal Center was the first marine mammal rehabilitation facility in California and was established prior to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.  We now share the responsibility for marine mammal rehabilitation with six other centers along the California’s coastline.
Pacific Marine Mammal Center began as Friends of the Sea Lion in 1971 with Jim Stauffer, John Cunningham and Dr. Rose Ekeberg. 
In the spring of 1971 a little girl approached Jim Stauffer, a Newport Beach lifeguard, on the beach.  The little girl told Jim that she had seen a seal on the beach.  Jim hopped in his lifeguard jeep and went to go investigate.  What he found was a young Pacific harbor seal. When Jim placed the animal in his jeep, it leapt right out.  Jim decided the animal was healthy and just needed to rest, so he returned to work.  
Concern for the animal nagged at him all day, and after work, when Jim returned to check on the small seal, it was still on the beach.  Jim picked up the seal and took it for a visit to the Dover Shores Animal Hospital where Dr. Rod La Shell examined the animal and found that it had lungworms.  Dr. La Shell showed Jim how to tube feed the animal with malt-o-meal and Jim then took the seal to his house in Costa Mesa.  In an extra bedroom, he engineered a wading pool from a dismantled bed with a shower curtain as a liner for the animal. Jim nursed the harbor seal back to health and released the animal back into the ocean.
Word of Jim’s skills soon spread. Whenever there was a sick or injured seal or sea lion on the beach, the chief lifeguard would contact him.  Within a few weeks, Jim was caring for another animal, this time a California sea lion.  Dr. Rose Ekeberg of Laguna Canyon Animal Hospital provided medicine and medical advice, as well as housing some of the animals at her clinic. Dr. Ekeberg spent countless hours nursing those first patients back to health. John Cunningham, also a lifeguard, began helping Jim care for the animals.  During the school year, John taught at Laguna Beach High School and, in 1972, he developed a marine science class. One of the requirements for the class was volunteering at Pacific Marine Mammal Center, known as Friends of the Sea Lion at that time.  
Several years later, Jim moved to a home with a pool located at Top of the World in Laguna Beach. The Department of Fish and Game issued the first permit of its kind in California and Jim was allowed to temporarily house seals and sea lions at his home.  
With the organization growing quickly, a facility other than Jim’s home and pool was necessary.  At that time, the SPCA was using a barn owned by the city of Laguna Beach.  In 1976, when the SPCA relocated, the building was offered to Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Jim Stauffer, John Cunningham and a few volunteers began renovation of the barn.  Now that the animals were housed at a public site, visitors were allowed to view the animals and the rehabilitation process.