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Guest Letter

Remembering Jim Stauffer

Fifty years ago, the Spring of 1971, a young girl tugged at the T-shirt of a Newport Beach Lifeguard. She pointed to a Pacific Harbor Seal pup that had washed ashore, looking dreadfully sick. She asked the Lifeguard to help save it. Back then, the way to deal with a sick marine mammal was to call the Police and a shot in the animal’s head took care of the problem. However, that moment and that little girl gave Jim thought; he had a better way to deal with a sick seal.

After his second attempt to get the Harbor Seal pup in his truck, he got it home, dismantled his own bed, lining the frame with a shower curtain and filled it with water. With help from a vet friend for meds and local fishermen for fresh fish, Jim helped the little Harbor pup get over pneumonia and worms and back into its ocean home.

Not long after this, word was out that this Newport Beach Lifeguard was the guy to call when a sick marine mammal washed ashore.

Jim set up his own backyard with several kiddie pools for the increasing calls of seals and sea lions in need. He got the attention and help from Veterinarian Dr. Rose Ekeberg. Neighbors annoyed by all the noise, forced Jim to move to Laguna Beach, where his new place had a pool, and as Jim said, “God’s doing” with hearing impaired neighbors.

Guest Letter Remembering first release

Jim at his first sea lion release

Right around that same time, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was enacted, and Jim became the first person to be granted permission by the Fish and Game to care for marine mammals in the backyard of his home. At this point, John Cunningham, a Laguna Beach Lifeguard and Laguna Beach High School teacher joined Jim and Dr. Ekeberg as co-founders in what Jim had named FRIENDS OF THE SEA LIONS. The community also joined in as around-the-clock volunteers.

In 1976, Jim had been named Laguna Beach Lifeguard Captain as well as Laguna Beach Head of Animal Services. He was aware of an abandoned barn along Laguna Canyon Road and by raising funds selling T-shirts and memberships – a new home for recovering stranded seals and sea lions was born. John Cunningham’s students helped with digging pools and adapting the landscaping for its marine occupants.

In his new Lifeguard Captain position, Jim trained Lifeguards along the coast how to guide stranded seals and sea lions into crates that Jim himself had created. And then of course to call Friends of the Sea Lions for a pick-up.

As Jim rose up the ranks and became Lifeguard Chief with the County, he handed the day-to-day operations off to John Cunningham where FRIENDS OF THE SEA LIONS became PACIFIC MARINE MAMMAL CENTER.

It is with great sadness to announce that Jim Stauffer, PMMC’s co-founder, passed away on October 21, 2021. Jim was 76.

Jim’s dedicated work, passion and love of marine mammals is carried out every single day at PMMC. In the mid-‘90s, he moved to Petaluma with his wife, Lynn, and their three kids, Natalie, Clark and Weston. He was a devoted Dad and was so very proud of his kids. He also recently became a granddaddy. Jim and Lynn celebrated their many happy years together and their 35th wedding anniversary in 2020.

Throughout, Jim stayed in touch with PMMC over the years. He was so proud of John Cunningham and the outstanding work he and the others had done to grow the organization. Jim and John were great friends and kept in touch over the many years…his enthusiasm for PMMC never waned. 

Thank You Jim Stauffer. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your big smile and hearty laugh. Thank you for making this world a better place. 

Please keep Jim’s wife, Lynn, and their family in your thoughts as they go through this difficult time.

There is a bronze-coated mural at the Art Hotel in Laguna Beach featuring Jim. It is not far from Seal Rock where Jim released his first rescue, that little Pacific Harbor Seal, back in 1971.

Guest Letter Remembering sea lion

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Jim attending to a sea lion


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