In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that this subject is quite close to my heart. I grew up in the Anza Borrego Desert and spent a healthy portion of my early life scouring dunes for arrowheads and potsherds at the intersection of the Desert Cahuilla territory in the north, the Kumeyaay/Tipai land in the south and the ancient shore of lake Cahuilla to the east. I was mesmerized by the evidence that this place, which seemed so inhospitable and sparsely populated in my own time, was once positively buzzing with human activity. So, if I wax too romantic I hope you will forgive me.
Have you been out spotting gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) as they head north? You don't have to step far from the Museum to see our celebrity gray whale, affectionately known as Sandy. At January’s Science Saturday, migration was the theme, and true to tradition, Sandy was honored as adoring fans climbed on her and we sang Happy 35th, but what is the story behind her arrival? This seemed like a good time to share a little history of Sandy before Pacific Grove. First, I gathered some information. Then I contacted the artist Larry Foster and enjoyed informative and entertaining conversations with him and his wife, Mary, who are now retired in Fort Bragg.
Walk the trails of Del Monte Forest this summer, and you may find a wild orchid in bloom under the Monterey pines. The one you’re most likely to see is Yadon’s rein-orchid (Piperia yadonii). It’s named after Vern Yadon, a botanist, Director Emeritus of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, and also member of the Forest Open Space Advisory Committee.
Today’s object with a story is a pelican. To be more precise, it’s the taxidermy mount of a California brown pelican. At what point in its life and after-life did it become an object? While touching lightly on that philosophical question, I’ve undertaken a search for the identity of this particular pelican—and through it find threads leading to the story of its species.
Have you ever wondered what inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds? The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that thousands of crazed sooty shearwaters were regurgitating anchovies, flying into buildings and dying in the streets in August 1961. This event, along with a short story written by Daphne du Maurier, inspired the thrilling movie. Scientists examined the stomach contents of sea turtles and shorebirds from samples that were saved at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and almost 80 percent of the plankton the animals were eating were diatoms that produced domoic acid. This toxin causes confusion, disorientation, scratching, and even death.
In 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino discovered and named a number of features along the California coast. He and the members of his fleet were probably the first Europeans to see these sites. They camped under a prominent oak tree near what is now Monterey's Lighthouse Avenue tunnel, adjacent to the present-day Lower Presidio Historic Park. Fast forward 167 years, to 1769, and another Spaniard, Garpar de Portola, sailed up the coast. One of his traveling companions was Father Juan Crespi, for whom Pacific Grove's Crespi Pond is named. The following year, Portola returned, this time with Father Junipero Serra. (Serra is scheduled to be canonized by Pope Francis on September 23rd, 2015.)
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is in its 131st year. Just under one year ago, I joined our guest services team upon earning my degree in visual and public arts from California State University, Monterey Bay. From my perch at the point of welcome to the public, my inner anthropologist has been inspired through directly experiencing our museum’s role in the community.