HEADLEY, Richard

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Santa Barbara Cemetery

HEADLEY, Richard Swain (1927-2008), sea captain and the last Santa Barbara sealer who bought his sealing business, Sea Lions International, from Walter Miller in 1958 for $5000. The business included the 38-foot wood-hull Seal (built in 1916), wooden cages, nets, anchors, and line. Miller was in his 60s; Headley had never caught a sea lion before, and he went out with Miller once before buying the business. The sea lions were delivered to McBride & Goebel who paid $40 for males and $50 for females. They, in turn, sold them at a profit. The animals were kept at Stearn's Wharf in a warehouse on the finger of the pier. Lew Nelson and Peter Howorth both worked for Headley.

In the early 1960s when Joe Gorgita "cut into the business", Headley went directly to zoos to sell the animals. Larry Bond, who fished with Headley, went into the business as Global Sea Lions, as did Peter Howorth. With the passage of the Marine Mammal Act in 1972, NOAA shut down the sea lion business.

Seal was lost at San Miguel Island (c. 1971 or 1972) in an incident that also killed a Fish & Game employee. On the way back from the island in rough water around midnight, Seal began using engine oil and the engine ran dry. The Coast Guard was called, and they took Seal under tow. Lew Nelson and his son, and a Fish & Game man were aboard. On a down swell, Seal broached and flipped over. The Nelsons made it out of the boat, but the Fish & Game employee disappeared. His body was never found. Seal sank.

Headley went on to become an accomplished artist, following portraiture in the style of Rembrandt. His subjects included dozens historical figures and western scenes, in addition to Civil War generals such as Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Headley’s portraits include Richard Henry Dana; Ronald Reagan; Arthur Conan Doyle; and Edgar Samuel Paxon. He was known to hire homeless men from the "hobo camp" near the Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara, to pose for portraits.

Richard Headley, born on June 17, 1927, died of cancer on January 31, 2008. He is buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery in a beautifully hand-crafted mahogany casket he made for himself in the months before his death. He carefully also chose his burial outfit. Headley was survived by his wife, Loretta.


» Hamilton, Andrew How to Catch a Sea Lion in Westways Magazine 51: 12 (9-11) 1959


Seal /swordfish stuck bill thru bottom of boat


In the News~

February 8, 1959 [SBNP]: “Pair find it’s a man-sized job capturing sea lions. Richard Headley, a Santa Barbara fisherman, captures sea lions for a living. ‘Trainers buy most of the sea lions we get,’ said Headley. ‘They order them, along with zoos and circuses, and we catch on order’… Most of the sea lions are caught off Santa Cruz Island… Headley, returning from his first trip to Santa Cruz this year, said: ‘It took us 14-1/2 hours, counting the four-hour trip each way, to get our first sea lion.’ The 100-pound captive was crated and sent railway express to the South Daytona Beach Sea Zoo in Florida…”


December 1959 [Westways]: “Headley choose as assistants men who can be instantly available for a one, two or three-day trip. They include Bob Kirby, a boat-shop owner, ‘Woody’ Treen, a pilot and commercial diver, Dick Moreli, a commercial fisherman, Bud Allen, a commercial fisherman, and Pete Maglio, a retired fisherman…”


February 5, 2008 [SBNP]: “Richard passed away peacefully in his sleep, at home, on January 31, 2008. Born in Los Angeles, CA, he grew up in Santa Barbara, graduating from Santa Barbara High School in 1946, after serving in the Merchant Marines during WWII. He was subsequently inducted into the Army while belonging to the National Guard to serve in the Korean War and was honorably discharged at the rank of 1st Lieutenant...”


December 30, 2014 [SBNP]: Loretta Headley (November 22, 1926 - December 19, 2014) passed away peacefully at her home in Islamorada, Florida, December 19, 2014. While born in St Louis, MO, Loretta grew up and resided in Santa Barbara, CA until 2010 (two years following the death of her husband Richard), at which time she moved to Islamorada, FL to be with her daughter, Lori...”