“Old Ben” and Avalon

Dear Old Ben — Famous  Seal At Catalina

Takes Fish Out Of Hand As Would A Pet Dog

Depends on Friendly Fishermen for Food and Waxes Fat on Albacore. Eats immense Quantities of Fish and Roams Seas as Patriarch of the Isolated Tribe

If you have visited Avalon on beautiful Catalina Island you have probably seen the statue to “Old Ben” that sits on the path from the ferry landing to the center of town. Here’s an old story that tells about “Old Ben.”

“Old Ben,” the famous old seal of Avalon, is still in his old haunts among the row boats and launches that dot the little harbor. He has been there for thirty-five years and in that time become as tame as the seals which are confined in parks and aquariums. He is as wise as the trained seals of Ringling’s circus, and were he to be captured and put with them, he would cost his keepers a tidy fortune, for he has the biggest appetite of any of his kind ever known.

“Old Ben” feasts on the big fish brought in by the hundreds of anglers that visit Catalina each summer. At each meal he will consume a half-dozen big albacore or skipjacks, aggregating 125 pounds in weight. When he is hungry he swims up near the boat landing, where his favorite befriender, Charles Tompkins, has his boat stand. After a glance at the fish rack, he sets to barking and diving about until he has attracted the attention of those on the pier. He will crawl clean up on the float after food, but even when extremely hungry he cannot be induced to remain there. As soon as he has seized his fish, he dives back into the bay, rising to the surface now and then to give his food a vicious toss as he tears out mouthfuls of flesh. At these times he is often followed by other smaller seals which are too timid to approach the landing. Gulls also pursue the old sea lion and seize the morsels, which are torn loose from the fish as it s being consumed.

This old pet of the bay has attained a great weight from the constant easy supply of food within his reach. He has never been on a scales, but estimates of his weight, made by causing him to cross planks up to a size that would no longer break, give it close to 1400 pounds. His sleek, gray-brown back is often seen dashing between the bathers, who scatter in wild commotion whenever he appears. He has an utter disregard for people and things, and roams about the bay whatever place suits his fancy.

Before Catalina was made a resort, “Old Ben” is supposed to have been the chief of the colony on Seal Rocks. Presumably he was vanquished by some younger rival, and now leads the life of an outcast. He seem to find this entirely agreeable, however, he has succeeded in coaxing several others of the colony into the bay with him. His face is scarred with the marks of many battles, and he has lost the sight of his right eye, but he rules his little band of in the bay as supremely as his successor on the rocks governs the colony.  — Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1918


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