Jim Stauffer, known in Laguna Beach as the ‘man of the sea lions’, has passed away – Orange County Register

While a lifeguard, Jim Stauffer was invited by a little girl to save a life, that of a sick harbor seal, inspiring a marine animal rescue in Newport Beach that has since brought back tens of thousands of animals. in the ocean.

Stauffer died on October 21 at the age of 76.

As a lifeguard, first in Newport Beach and then in Laguna Beach, Stauffer worked with John Cunningham, a lifeguard and high school teacher in Laguna Beach, and Rose Eckberg, a local veterinarian, to help sick pinnipeds get away from it all. wash on the beaches of Orange County.

Now, 50 years later, their efforts, first as Friends of the Sea Lion, and now as Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, have grown into a successful rescue and rehabilitation program that is also recently positioned as one of the top locations for marine mammal research in Southern California.

“What Jim brought were those gigantic open arms that brought in neighborhood kids and volunteers to help,” Jim’s wife Lynn Stauffer said of what made PMMC special.

“For him, it was more like how lucky I am to have had a life that had that kind of impact. It is so precious and I had something to do with it to make it happen, ”said Stauffer of her husband’s affection for the center which he continued to consult even after the family left. moved to Northern California.

In 1971, Stauffer was approached by a little girl who found a sick harbor seal and told her, “You save lives, don’t you? There is a life, save it.

He ended up taking the animal home to his apartment and made a small enclosure with a used mattress and pillows. He treated the animal with the help of antibiotics provided by Eckberg. Three weeks later, the seal was back in the ocean.

After further rescues, Stauffer gained the reputation of “sea lion man”. And when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed, Stauffer became the first person authorized by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to deal with marine mammals – in the backyard of his Top of the World home in Laguna. Beach. In 1976, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center was in its last home on Laguna Canyon Road.

While working as a lifeguard at Laguna Beach – where he met Cunningham – and with the town’s animal service in the 1970s, Stauffer taught local rescuers to be on the lookout for sick sea lions and seals. He showed them how to contain them when they ran aground on the beach, then asked them to call the Marine Mammal Center for help.

Cunningham took the reins of the Marine Mammal Center and became its director in 1976.

Stauffer’s death will leave an “empty hole” for those who support the center, said Stephanie Cunningham, wife of John Cunningham. Cunningham died in July, he was 82. “(Stauffer) has always been so enthusiastic and passionate.

“He had the most wonderful stories to tell,” she said. “He always started with his story of how it was in the beginning, when there were no rules and regulations and you could just put sea lions in your truck.”

Growing up on Balboa Island, Stauffer would go around the bay and harbor with his boat, always finding wild animals or birds in need of help, Lynn Stauffer said.

“He was just born with a love for animals,” she said.

At 15, Stauffer began to be a lifeguard. He went to Newport Harbor High and played water polo. He attended the University of Oregon and went on to earn a degree in accounting from San Diego State University.

But, an office job was not his job. For 27 years he worked as a lifeguard, then for the private lifeguard company then called Lifeguard International Beach Services which he founded with his partner Dick Johnson. It was the first company to enter into a contract with the county.

“He was so excited to try a new approach,” said Lynn Stauffer. “He saw a need for lifeguards who could get in and out of the waves. He recruited more local surfers, he recruited more amazing people than just guys on the swim teams. He was so proud that he got to see rough diamonds which later became doctors and scientists. “

Peter Chang, CEO of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, credits “Jim’s selfless act that day” of unconsciously spurring “what has become 50 years and counting for PMMC’s rescue work along our shores .

“On top of that, when you count the children, military veterans and families who are affected by our education programs and the behavioral changes that result from the results of our scientific research, its impact is remarkable and immeasurable,” said Chang said.

Chang said he spoke to Stauffer just two weeks ago and that Stauffer was looking forward to celebrating PMMC’s 50th anniversary at his gala this weekend. Instead, PMMC will honor Stauffer and Cunningham at the event.

“It was tough for Jim when John passed away,” said Lynn Stauffer. “I’d like to think they’re up there together planning their next big business.”

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Jennifer R. Strohm

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