It just doesn’t get much better than an afternoon discovering the amazing things that are being done to save orphaned sea lions in Southern California — then also go on to discover the wonders of just a few of the many tide pools in and round lovely Laguna Beach just south of Los Angeles.
That’s what the two of us had the fun of doing, along with our nine-year-old granddaughter, Alison, and what a day we had devoting ourselves to environmental and wildlife/marine life.
Our host was Cheri Ikerd, owner and operator of OC Wildlife & Beach Tours (the OC stands for Orange County). This sprightly, athletic-looking young lady picked us up at our hotel in her van and took us on one of her unforgettable half-day tours.
First stop was the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, inland from Laguna Beach and a place that for more than 40 years has devoted itself primarily to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing hundreds of orphaned, sick or injured marine animals.
Here we learned the difference between California Sea Lions, Northern Elephant Seals, and Pacific Harbor seals– all friendly mammals that are cared for here. Over 70 volunteers help the small paid staff with this remarkable and much-needed effort.
Another mission of the Center is to increase public awareness of the marine environment through education and research – and we must say, by all appearances, these devoted people are doing a magnificent job as they pursue this vitally important work.
2013 has been the center’s busiest year in its 42-year history. Over 300 California sea lions have been rescued with more coming every day. Normally, 150-200 are treated in an entire year’s time.
Cheri, of course, chose just the right spot for our walk along the Laguna Beach shoreline, and here we were able to see just a small fraction of the Pacific Ocean’s endless tide pools — now highly protected by the State. We reveled in the wonders of the beach’s ever-changing panorama – meanwhile getting a good dose of Vitamin D.
We learned much about the colorful sea life that can only be seen in the tiny pools left on the sandy beach when the tide is out, including sea stars (not starfish, we learned, since they are not really fish at all), sea anemones, sea urchins, tiny crabs, and so much more, all in colorful array. It takes a knowledgeable guide to point out all the wonders, and it then becomes a highly fun and educational experience that kids and adults, as well, can enjoy.
We were especially fascinated with the many varieties of sea anemones. The open ones look like a flower, and we could see the stinging nettles that allow them to paralyze fish so they can eat. These sea creatures have no hearts or brains and can live over 100 years. Maybe they know something we don’t?
At a third stop, we viewed many kinds of birds, including cormorants and brown pelicans all perched on huge rock outcroppings along the shoreline. This is where sea lions and dolphins hang out, as well.
In this picturesque area, Cheri pointed out two immense palm trees that stand side-by-side overlooking the ocean. Locals call the trees Lucy and Desi, in honor of the “I Love Lucy” show and because the world-renowned comedians loved the spot. It’s also where their movie The Long, Long Trailer was filmed.
Small wonder that many other movie stars of past years chose to live in this spectacular area, as well.
Cheri offers several half-day tours that include transportation, an educational guide, beverage and snack. Custom tours are available on request, and the towns visited along this dramatic part of Highway 1 on the Pacific seashore depend upon the tour you choose.
We chose the Wildlife & Beach Tour (Eco-tour) on what is referred to as the California Riviera Gold Coast. This tour is for all ages and involves light walking and the ability to climb the stairs from the highway down to the beach — and back up again, of course.
Several other morning or afternoon tour choices are available. These include the Beach Coastal & Shopping Tour, the Orange County Tour — including San Juan Capistrano, and the Laguna Canyon Artists Private Studies & Wine Tasting Tour. Only problem is which one to choose – perhaps stay on and take them all?