Posts tagged ‘beth cataldo’

Ray's early apartment

Bandar’s Bones Return Featured

On Thursday, May 16, the Skulls exhibit will open at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The exhibit features a collection of skulls that will provide a fascinating look into nature’s engineering while telling us all about the lifestyle of many animals.

Perhaps as fascinating (if not more) is the story of the man who collected the majority of the skulls in this exhibit. At 86 years old, Ray Bandar has been collecting skulls for Cal Academy for more than 60 years. Many of the skulls he collected (approximately 7,000) are in his house in what he calls his Skull Palace, a basement room stacked high with bones and skulls. The exhibit will have a selection of those skulls along with hands-on activities for all ages.

My favorite part of the exhibit features a wall of sea lion skulls. The diversity of those skulls is remarkable as it tells the story of individual variation in one species. In front of that wall of sea lions is a video featuring Ray Bandar, much of it from my movie, Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls, which I began back in 2003 when I first met Ray.

The inspiration for the movie occurred when I was on a backstage tour of the last Skulls exhibit at Cal Academy. During my tour, Ray told his bounty of tales with a boyish exuberance that I felt I needed to capture on video. He brought every skull to life with a tale: mammals dying because their horns locked when they were fighting, marine mammals with shotguns shells in their heads, how dogs represented man-made evolution and bears that had become obese on human food.

In search for a complete story about Ray’s passion, I interviewed his friends, colleagues and wife and followed him out on an excursion to collect the skull of a harbor porpoise. My own three-year journey with Ray would eventually turn into a 30-minute movie called Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls, which was shown on PBS. You can buy the movie (with an hour of extras), from

For more information see:
The California Academy of Sciences web site
KQED’s story on Ray Bandar







Bob meticulously measuring the length of our transects.

May 27, 2013: Tsunami Debris Monitoring

When I first told friends about my Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Monitoring volunteer work, they warned me about being radiated by the items I would find. I thought about buying a Geiger counter and searched online for a while but I was confused by the multiple models and eventually passed on the idea, like I often do when I am offered too many choices.

Looking for Treasures
Ten months after starting my duty as a tsunami marine debris monitor, I head out to North Point Beach in Ano Nuevo State Reserve with much anticipation, not unlike a treasure hunter on the Bay Bridge heading early to Alameda for the flea market, hoping to find a unknown gem. The debris from the Japanese 2011 tsunami certainly won’t be treasures, but an eventual catalogue of items will be certainly mysterious and fantastic to trace back to their origins. Just over a month ago, a barnacled boat was confirmed by federal officials to be the first tsunami debris in California. Understanding how it traveled across the ocean to the US West Coast will also be remarkable for scientists. Watching what else shows up over time (and how long it takes to get here) will help us understand how big the problem is and will help us reduce possible impacts to our natural resources and coastal communities.

Bob meticulously measures our transects.

Bob meticulously measures our transects.

Surveying Transects
As for our work, each month my survey partner, Bob, and I set up four transects and catalogue debris within the 5-meter wide areas, each of them approximately 50 meters in length. On Monday, I found exactly one white bottlecap in that entire area. Bob, my debris monitoring partner, diligently measured the width of each transect after placing metal flag poles into the ground at the appropriate spots.

Waste of Time?
Bob wonders out loud whether this is a good use of his time (even though he is retired). I, on the other hand, am what he calls a pushover because I head out in the early morning hours for the 1.5-hour drive each way with no complaints. In fact, even though we have found nothing in the 10 months we’ve been going to this beach, this is usually the highlight of my week even if I’ve been out late salsa dancing the night before.

The World without Us Humans
I like to watch how the area changes with the season, especially the beauty of the beach and the critters that elusively visit. I like to create stories that remind me of the immense realm that we humans don’t inhabit.

This gallery shows what I photographed today at our beach. None of this was entered on any of the governmental documents that we will hand in. However, these images certainly prove that there is a vibrant and whirling existence that endures entirely without our involvement. That, somehow, is reassuring to me.