Los Angeles County Museum

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LACM Biological Survey participants included: left to right, standing: Don Meadows, Lloyd Martin, Myron Dunkle, Arthur Woodward, Russell Sprong, Jack Von Bloeker, John Comstock. Seated: George Kanakoff and Jewel Lewis.
George P. Kanakoff (far left) Long Beach, CA,
Pier 1, Berth 50, July 21, 1939
George Kanakoff on the beach at
San Miguel Island, 1939
Photo courtesy of LACM

Los Angeles County Museum Channel Islands Biological Survey (1939-1941), an interdisciplinary research survey proposed by Don Meadows in 1938 to the directors of the Los Angeles Museum. It received board approval December 24, 1938. The basis of the survey was to focus on the life forms and their ecological relationships, together with geological and archaeological considerations on all eight California Channel Islands.

The Survey Goal was to:

  • Investigate the biology, geology, archaeology and paleontology of all 8 California Channel Islands
  • determine relationships between the islands and the mainland
  • determine man's influence on this unique ecosystem

Most transportation was provided by Captain Allen Hancock of the University of Southern California Allen Hancock Foundation, and the California Fish and Game Commission.

Thirteen expeditions were conducted over a two year period, before World War II cut short the survey. The thirteenth expedition was on Santa Rosa Island when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and arrangements were made for the schooner Santa Cruz to pick up the members of the survey and return them to the mainland. Some of the expeditions had several contingencies coming and going. All participants are listed below, although in some cases not all participants stayed the entire trip.

Publications regarding specimens collected during this important survey project appeared irregularly in Southern California Academy of Sciences Bulletins from 1939 to 1962, and today the specimens collected continue to serve scientists.

  • 1. February 18-19, 1939 San Clemente Island

  • 2. April 1-8, 1939 San Clemente Island
LACM Biological Survey crew, San Clemente Island

  • 3. May 27-30, 1939 Santa Barbara Island

Biological Survey Team on Santa Barbara Island, 1939
(Left to Right) Theodore Reddick, Meryl B. Dunkle, Jack C. Von Bloeker, Lloyd Martin, James DeLong, and Russell Sprong.
Biological Survey Team landing on Santa Barbara Island, March 1940

  • 4. July 21-August 19, 1939 San Nicolas, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz islands

  • 5. November 9-December 10, 1939 San Clemente Island

  • 6. November 23-26, 1939 San Clemente Island

  • 7. March 15-23, 1940 Santa Barbara Island aboard Yellowtail

  • 8. April 10-28, 1940 San Nicolas Island aboard Velero III

  • 9. August 15-30, 1940 Anacapa Island aboard Yellowtail

  • 10. November 23-December 12, 1940 San Nicolas Island aboard Velero III

  • 11. January 20-27 , 1941 Santa Catalina Island on a Catalina Island steamer

  • 12. February 14-April 9, 1941 San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa islands aboard Velero III, Schofield

  • 13. November 8-December 14, 1941 Santa Rosa Island aboard Velero III, Yellowtail, Schofield, Santa Cruz

In the News~

September 21, 1931 [SDET]: “Finds images in stone on island. Several steatite effigies of deep-sea sharks, porpoises and whales were found recently by Arthur R. Sanger, a Los Angeles archaeologist, on the northern shore of San Clemente Island, 50 miles off the coast of San Diego. The stone images, according to Sanger, were carved with great artistry by the prehistoric aborigines formerly inhabiting San Clemente and are among the finest examples of early California sculpture. The effigies will probably be temporarily exhibited in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Sanger having made numerous archaeological collections for that institution as well as for others throughout the country. The Heye Foundation, Museum of the American Indian in New York, has material gathered by Sanger, and his own collection is probably the largest private assortment of Channel Islands remains extent. It is said that the most complete collections of prehistoric California Indian relics are to be found abroad. They were shipped out of the state before American scientists had awakened to the archaeological and ethnological importance of this group of long-inhabited islands, which supported a native population when Cabrillo first sailed into California waters. Within 400 years thereafter the islanders became an extinct race. Recently archaeologists in California have asked the federal government to set these islands aside as a national monument, thus preventing the invasion of itinerant trophy hunters. In the meantime many of the islands, such as wind-swept San Nicolas, 100 miles off the coast, are slowly being blown into the sea, for the Pacific gales carry tons of sand into the ocean every day. By this means shell, bone and ancient skeletons are being exposed and scattered, baffling the calculations of the archaeologist, who depends upon stratification for approximating his chronological sequences of culture.”

March 16, 1939 [LAT]: “Savants will explore isles. Five-year survey to start soon at San Clemente base. Eight members of the Los Angeles Museum will invade San Clemente Island, the United States Navy's 31,500-acre offshore base, on April 1 to launch a five-year archaeological, biological and botanical survey of the Channel Islands. For one week. The Times learned last night, this expedition will camp on the rocky, cactus-studded dot of land 58 miles off the Southern California coast. With permission of the Navy, which since 1936 has forbidden civilian craft to approach within 300 yards of the highly secret base, the eight-man party will comb the island for rare bird, animal and plant life. Always they will be probing the relationship of this volcanic island's strange flora and fauna to the mainland's. Dr. John Adams Comstock, veteran director of science for the museum, disclosed the plans for the project. Under the aegis of the Los Angeles Museum-Channel Islands Biological Survey, this first expedition headed by Don Meadows, member of the Southern California Academy of Science and Long Beach schools professor, will chug away from Terminal Island on April 1 in a State Fish and Game Commission launch. For at least a week, Dr. Comstock said, the octet of experts will hunt, photograph, record and report. Every photograph and map must be censored by the Navy Department, he explained. Deep in San Clemente's "lost" caves, according to Arthur Woodward, director of the museum's anthropological division and member of the expedition, may be found remnants of a prehistoric civilization. If the caves are dry, he added, bits of clothing and basketry may give cultural clues to the Dawn Men of the Southland. Another aim of the initial Channel Islands Survey, Dr. Comstock said, will be to determine the influence of man on the rugged little island. Still others will investigate the effect of eons of isolation on the wildlife, floral and animal. When the monumental five-year task is completed, Dr. Comstock said, the long-puzzling question of the bearing on each Channel Island on its neighbor should be known. He announced that specimens will be brought back to the Los Angeles Museum for correlation, closer examination and cataloguing. Weeks ago Dr. Comstock voyaged out to San Clemente to lay the groundwork for the survey and discover suitable camping spots. His will be the none-too-thankful task of executing this preliminary work later on Coronados, Santa Catalina, San Nicolas and Santa Barbara islands. Later he will extend his labors to the northern Channel group, including Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel. The expedition's operations base will be established at Pyramid Cove at the southeast tip of the little island. With the exception of those portions of San Clemente considered too confidential for the public by the Navy, the eight men will fine-tooth-comb the entire surface—and even plumb the depths of subterranean regions and the ocean's floor. This latter will be the task of Capt. Allan Hancock's "laboratory yacht" Velero III and Fish and Game Commission boats. Members of the group will meet at the museum at 10:30 a.m. Saturday to discuss final arrangements. They include, besides Meadows and Woodward: Theo Reddick, herpetologist and supply officer; Jack von Bloeker, ornithologist and mammalogist; M. B. Dunkle, botanist; Lloyd Martin, entomologist; Dr. Willis P. Popenoe, geologist, and Roy L. Brown, cook.”

July 28, 1939 [News Note for Miss Condon from J. A. Comstock]: “A special message via Coast Guard radio from San Nicholas [sic] Island reports that the members of the Los Angeles Museum Channel Island Biological Survey expedition are meeting with great success in their field collecting. They are being transferred this Friday to San Miguel Island where the character of the flora and fauna is vastly different from that on San Nicholas Island. The transfer from the San Nicholas Island to San Miguel was made by the California Fish and Game Commission's boat, Blue Fin. Work will be carried on for one week at San Miguel and the party will then be picked up by Capt. Hancock, with the Velero III, and transfer either to Santa Rosa or Santa Cruz Island. The three westernmost islands of the Santa Barbara group, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, are closed to all hunting and trespassing, but the scientists of the Museum party and also a group representing the Hancock Foundation of the University of Southern California are operating under special permit of the owners of these islands. J .A. C.”

August 22, 1939 [Wilmington Daily Press Journal]: “San Clemente Island Survey Expedition Ends. Los Angeles, Aug. 22.—Completion of the first scientific expedition to San Clemente Island was announced yesterday by supervisor John Anson Ford. Sponsored by the county museum of history, science and art in Exposition Park, the expedition collected more than 7,000 specimens in an expedition of only about 10 percent of the island's area, covering only six square miles in its operations. Included in the specimens obtained by the party under leadership of Don Meadows of the museum staff were: 2,700 insects, 3,500 plants, 500 archaeological specimens, 150 reptiles, 2111 crustaceans and 59 mammals.”

August 22, 1940 [TI/Avalon]: “Early on the morning of August 15, a party of seven left for the little island off the coast of California, Anacapa, which is really three little islets closely connected. This is the first time the Biological Survey of the Los Angeles County Museum has been to this particular group. This now leaves the Island of Santa Catalina as the only one yet to be checked by the Survey. From Anacapa, the scientists hope to return to the Museum with specimens of mammals, reptiles, plants, insects and other invertebrates. The party left on one of the Fish and Game Commission boats, and the trip will only take about three hours in these speedy little vessels. The entire group will return on the 28th or 29th of August.”

November 27-December 14, 1941: [n.d.; n.p.] “Scientists 7 marooned by war on Santa Rosa Isle. Santa Rosa Isle. Marooned today by the wartime shipping restrictions were a party of scientists, comprised of four men and three women, on Santa Rosa Island of the Santa Barbara Channel group. The party, headed by George Willett, curator of birds at the Los Angeles County Museum, includes Mrs. Willett, Miss Marion Hollenbach, Miss Barbara Loomis, Harry Fletcher, Jack Couffer and Richard W. Case. They were sent out to excavate kitchen middens of a prehistoric village, made the important discovery of the skeleton of a dwarf elephant and now can't get back to the mainland.”