Natural History and the Indigenous People of the South Bay

Highlights From The Exhibit

The Early Camel: A matrix block shows partial lower jaw pieces of an extinct even-toed hoofed animal called an Oreodont. This animal is the smallest of the known Oreodont species, an ancestor to deer, camels, goats, pigs and sheep.

The Kelp Harvester: Photo of a a self-propelled kelp harvester named Joplin, Kenvil and Bacchus, which could harvest 500 tons of kelp in a 24-hour period. The plant employed up to 1500 people, including 30 scientists. The chopped kelp was put into large redwood tanks, heated and aerated for 30 days. The liquid was drawn off and placed into tanks. Lime was added to kill bacteria and stop the fermentation process. The liquid was either heated or cooled to create various salts and many other products.

The Giant Sea Cow Vertebra is from the largest sea cow species known to exist. The Cuesta sea cow is an extinct herbivorous marine mammal and the direct ancestor of the Steller’s sea cow. They reached up to 30 feet in length. The Cuesta sea cow went extinct 2.5 million years ago. The Giant sea cow could not adapt to the cold Quaternary glaciation period. When the oceans cooled, their main food source seagrasses, declined to a point where it could no longer support their population. The Giant sea cow vertebra was found in sandstone at the housing development site of Bel Air Ridge. (3.5 million years old)

The Grunion Runs take place on the shores of the Pacific Ocean from Point Conception, California, south to Point Abreojos, Baja California. Grunion a member of the silversides family, deposit their eggs on sandy beaches at night. This happens when the tide is at its highest in its current cycle and the moon is in the new or full moon phase. The females burrow into the sand tail first about half of their body length. The males wrap their bodies around the females in order to fertilize the eggs externally in the sandy nest. Then they both take the next wave possible back to the sea. The tide will not be this high again for nine days. During this time the eggs are incubating. The next series of high tides in nine days will cause a tumbling action on the eggs, causing them to hatch. The grunion will then swim back out into the ocean.

The Russian Fur Trade Camp: The California Commissioner at Monterey, made an agreement in 1825 with the Russian-American Fur Company to hunt sea otters, from the mission at San Luis Ray (San Diego County) To Todos Santos (Ensenada), Baja California. The Russian fur trade ship Baikal visited San Diego in the years 1825-1826, and camped near a fresh water well on Coronado’s Silver Strand. The fresh water well was later to become known as Russian Spring or Russian Wells. The location of the spring was ideal for hunting sea otters off the Coronado Islands and Point Loma and was near the natural salt evaporation ponds in south San Diego Bay, which was important for tanning hides.

Green Sea Turtles in San Diego Bay: Today we have a population of about 70 to 100 Eastern Pacific green sea turtles, also known as black turtles because of their dark carapaces. They were by the warm water outflow of the power plant. This warm water outflow became heated by cooling four turbine engines in the power plant. The turtles are a cold blooded reptile and these warm waters from the outflow were like a Jacuzzi for them.

The Kumeyaay lived in one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America. They would trade acorns, deer meat, baskets, seafood and shells for obsidian, red ochre, pottery, corn, beans, gourds, pine nuts and agave. Abalone shells and olivella beads were popular trade items.

The Kumeyaay hunted rabbits for food and clothing. They used curved throwing sticks made from Oak, Wild Lilac, or Chokecherry. The wood was soaked, bent and allowed to dry. They were carved flat using a stone knife.