Earlier in March, John had been working in his hot dog stand when he noticed a shimmering shape in the surf. Assuming it was a fish, John, apparently an intrepid soul, charged into the surf to capture it. When he swam closer and heard plaintive bleats, John realized he was not tracking a fish, but was after a baby seal. He took the baby seal home and began nursing it by feeding it milk every two to three hours. John’s theory was that Pat’s mother had been shot by fishermen.
In the days that followed, “Pat” as John named him, would follow and play with his rescuer both on land and in the sea. Their antics attracted local attention and word-of-mouth publicity, and the Santa Ana Register sent a reporter to cover the the unlikely pair on March 5th. That story mentioned that Pat and John would swim together three times a day off Dolphin Avenue between 9 and 10 am, again between 1 and 3 pm, and finally between 4 and 5 pm before retiring to John’s home for the night.
Not to be outdone and knowing a good human (and marine mammal) interest story when they saw it, the editors sent a reporter and a photographer to Seal Beach. Neither the Register or Times saw fit to ask John’s mother or the rest of the family what they thought about his new pet.
It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it appears that Pat didn’t have ear flaps, which would make him a seal and not a pet seal lion as featured in this 1917 post.
There was also never a follow up story covering Pat’s eventual fate, but any marine biologist worth his or her salt water will tell you that adopting a seal or seal lion as a pet is not a good idea and will likely not end well for the critter. We can only hope that at some stage Pat moved on to have a full normal life in the ocean.
(Incidentally, John seemed to be prone to car accidents. When he was fourteen, John broke his leg in Naples when he was thrown from a reckless friend’s car when it overturned while passing another car. In 1933, John was behind the driver’s seat this time and narrowly escaped when the delivery truck he was driving was clipped by a Pacific Electric train at Electric Avenue and Seventeenth Street in Seal Beach. The truck spun around and was knocked 50 feet down the road.)
– Michael Dobkins
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