Tunney v. Murphy v. Sea Lions

In response to Paul Kuhn’s letter lamenting the fact that the National Park Service (NPS) has chosen Option 3 for the Channel Islands, it came as no surprise to me also to learn that NPS chose what attendees considered the worst possible option. Anybody who has read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is already familiar with many incidents of the NPS’s incompetence.

Regarding our local islands, though, there are many, many instances of what I consider malfeasance. The one I will recount here is the one I witnessed personally.

Back in the ’70s, I was anchored in Adams Cove, San Miguel Island. I was just getting ready to head back to Santa Barbara when I heard helicopters approaching. To my utter disbelief and horror, three helicopters landed smack-dab on top of the small colony of Pribilof fur seals. The result was, as you can imagine, complete chaos as the adults stampeded to get to the water, trampling the babies. I counted 50 young ones writhing around as though their little backs had been broken. The helicopters landed within spitting distance of a cabin that was occupied by an observer from UC Berkeley who was being paid to ensure that no one bothered any of the pinnipeds on the island.

When I arrived back home my wife said, “You should see what they were saying about you on the television.” I caught the piece at 11 p.m. It turned out the NPS had taken an entourage of Rep. John Tunney’s, complete with camera crew from KEYT. Tunney (D) was running for public office against Sen. George Murphy (R) and was trying to make political hay out of my sea lion collecting operation. I wrote a letter to Tunney with the statistics from the California Department of Fish and Game attached to assure him that rather than the sea lion population declining due to my operation, it had actually doubled from 5,000 to 10,000 during my tenure and that they had been collected there since the early 1900s. He responded, profusely apologizing and stating that he had been fed some erroneous information.

The good news is that I was able to get the superintendent of the NPS Channel Islands, who was responsible for the fiasco, fired. The bad news, for me, was they fired him to Washington, and he proceeded to have his cronies back there in National Marine Fisheries Service put me out of business. They should never have run the ranching operations off of the islands.


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