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 only three volunteers: 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 leaped right out. Jim decided the animal must be healthy and just needed to rest, so he returned to work.
Concern for the animal nagged at him all day. When Jim returned to check on the small seal, it was still on the beach. Jim picked up the seal and took it to the Dover Shores Animal Hospital, where Dr. Rod La Shell examined the animal and found that it had lungworms. With advice from Dr. La Shell, Jim nursed the harbor seal back to health and released the animal back into the ocean.
Word of Jim’s nursing skills soon spread. Whenever there was a sick or injured seal or sea lion on the beach, lifeguards would contact Jim. Within a few weeks, Jim was caring for a second a California sea lion. John Cunningham, another 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 students of John's class was volunteering at Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Dr. Rose Ekeberg of Laguna Canyon Animal Hospital provided medicine and medical advice, as well as housing some of the animals at her clinic.
The Department of Fish and Game issued the first permit of its kind in California. 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 local 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 that still functions today as the Center’s rehabilitation hub.