Chicken of the Sea

StoryTime with Dr. Baum, Chief of Staff, Center-Sinai Animal Hospital, your veterinary hospital serving West Los Angeles communities Palms, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, W. L.A. Photo © Ina Hillebrandt

Anacapa Island is one of the Channel Islands, a chain of small islands that lie off the Ventura/Santa Barbara Coast. It is accessible only by boat. Several small tour operators regularly run excursions to Anacapa and its neighboring islands.

Recently, my wife, Linda and I drove up the coast from Los Angeles and spent the night at our favorite beach retreat, the inn on the beach in Buenaventura. The following morning we were up by seven, and after scarfing up the complimentary donuts and coffee, drove a short five minutes to the dock where we were to meet our tour boat.

A sea voyage, for me, is always a formidable obstacle to overcome. Anyone who has experienced that wonderful feeling known as sea sickness knows what I am talking about. Due to no lack of foresight, I had in my possession one full pack of Bonamine tablets. As I opened the pack and popped four tablets into my mouth (I was taking no chances on a nauseating journey). I was immediately surrounded by a diverse group of fellow travelers, all looking enviously at my remaining cache of pills. As I could easily commiserate with their pleading looks, I munificently distributed the precious stash.

With the susceptible population suitably “Bonamized,” the boat left port and began the two hour voyage across the channel which would take us to Anacapa Island. The ride over was pleasant. A bright sunshiny day with the faintest hint of whitecaps dotting the ocean’s surface, periodically broken by the appearance of groups of dolphins and seals. As we disembarked upon our arrival at the landing dock, we were met by a most surprising sight.

Copiously dotting the island were what appeared to be large cotton balls! Closer inspection soon revealed these puffs to be the white plumages of thousands of fledgling sea birds in the process of hatching from their shells. Everywhere we looked we saw evidence of the recent hatchings — cracked eggs and downy chicks teetering about.

Before our main tour of the small island commenced, our group was shepherded into the ranger station — the only building on the island. One of the park rangers briefly discussed the history of Anacapa. Except for a few years after World War II, the island remained as an uninhabited area. It was frequented only by California gray seals who found shelter on its rocky shores, and sea birds who found the island’s isolation perfect for hatching their eggs.

We were given leave to wander around the island for the next two hours, with the sole admonition to stay on the foot trails to avoid damage to the ice plant and scrub chaparral covering the surface of the island. The path around the perimeter of the island was approximately two miles. Additional footpaths criss-crossed the island at various intervals.

As we strolled leisurely around, I began to notice that interspersed through the celebration of emerging life that surrounded us, there was evidence of the final act in the cycle of life — corpses of dead birds in various states of dismemberment and decomposition littered the landscape in a random fashion. Many of the dead birds were victims of an internecine rivalry for the available nesting sites.

As we approached one sector of the island, I became aware that we had inadvertently chanced upon what seemed to be the main bird graveyard. There were literally thousands and thousands of bones heaped in layers upon each other.

I authoritatively proclaimed to my wife that we must have uncovered the ancestral graveyard for the seabirds, rationalizing that those individuals who were able were drawn to this sector of the island to die after having been mortally wounded during combat.

Imagine my surprise when Linda gently replied that the bones appeared to be chicken bones, and that in spite of my veterinary background, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could she be so insane? There were dead sea birds littered about. Her husband, the veterinarian, was identifying the bones as those of the sea birds. There wasn’t a chick in site on this island, yet she persisted in her belief that there were chicken bones! How crazy!! How ignorant!!

As we made our way back to the ranger station, our bickering continued. I was anxious to speak to one of the rangers so that Linda could be proven wrong emphatically.

Upon encountering Ranger Bill, I immediately launched into a quick recap our discoveries and the subsequent disagreement, all the while using a tone of voice which invoked visions of amused condescension for my obviously misguided wife.

Ranger Bill broke into an amused grin as he gazed towards our bone pile and explained, “We call it Colonel Sanders’ Graveyard.” The first cracks began to appear in my pompous expression as he continued, “The Oxnard City Dump lies eight miles across the channel, and the Colonel has an outlet there, and they empty all their garbage there. The birds pick up the bones that contain scraps of meat, fly over here with their delectable morsels, clean off the meat and leave the bones in Colonel Sanders’ Graveyard.

My humiliation was complete.


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