What is the skeleton in your closet?

IMG_3571Ray “Bones” Bandar has been collecting… well, bones… for about 60 years for himself and the California Academy of Sciences.  Making use of their licenses, he is often the first person called when a marine mammal washes up on the coast from Big Sur to Mendocino, and even when many zoos have a death.

He arrives on the scene, determines quickly if he can take the entire animal or not, and goes to work documenting everything from where the specimen is found to how it apparently died and then the real work starts – collecting the bones.

Easy to classify his “hobby” as “obsession”, Ray has collected over 6,000 specimens, most stored at his home in San Francisco.  This includes nearly 2,000 California sea lions.  Considered an extension of the museum’s study collection, it becomes the largest collection of California sea lion specimens in the world and it’s open for research to anyone interested.

For many animals, only the skull (and baculum for a male specimen) is collected.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much which can be learned.

At the new exhibit – SKULLS – at the California Academy of Sciences, you get a chance to be up close and personal with all kinds of skulls to learn answers to 3 main questions:

  • What is a skull?
  • What does a skull do?
  • What can be learned from them?

IMG_3568The focus is on animals living today (i.e. no dinosaur skulls) and how their study can help to sustain their life on the Earth.

This is done with a collection of over 600 skulls ranging from minute hummingbirds to the gigantic – African elephant, sans tusk and mandible.

It’s complete with comparisons on different features and functions of a skull – teeth, hearing, shape, and more – to oddities of skulls and even 3 live dermestid beetle (aka flesh-eating beetles or carpet beetles) colonies actively de-fleshing bones for your entertainment and education.

I had a preview over a week ago and was privileged to get to then do an introduction for some of the staff at the museum followed by several hours of engaging with the public there, and I have to say it was a hit on all three occasions.

Then add in the activities – which range from 3D computer simulations to quiz games to using camera lucida to sketch a skull – and I think it’s safe to say they have a hit on their hands.

Running now through November, I highly recommend taking yourself or the family.  And, for some extra fun, this coming Thursday’s NightLife is SKULLS-themed.

NOTE:  If you go, make sure to stroll up to the Naturalist Center for a special selection of skulls specifically curated by Ray “Bones” Bandar.

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