Ben was a sea lion that most likely swam up from the island’s east end and into Avalon Bay in the late 1800’s. Deciding to make Avalon his home base, the huge bull sea lion set about making friends of the Islanders, visitors and especially the fishermen. He had a huge appetite, and since swordfish, tuna and albacore were not considered edible at the time, it was customary for fishermen to throw their catch back into Avalon Bay after having a photo taken with their fish. This custom provided Ben ample opportunities to dine in leisure and completely satisfy his gourmand tendencies.
Ben made friends with everyone, especially the fishermen. Although he was always social and friendly, he was not above a fondness for playing pranks. A daily prank that he enjoyed was played out on a small tour boat that cruised around the bay. Hiding out of sight until the last passenger had boarded, Ben would suddenly propel his huge bulk out of the water, making a torrential splash, roaring his distinctive bark and dousing the surprised passengers with seawater. He seemed to delight in the screams and laughter coming from the boat. He was quite friendly, posing for photos, hauling out of the water and waddling along the beachfront making friends and looking for any handouts.
It is more than likely that Old Ben (or some called him Big Ben) became the first movie star from the island. In 1915 Mack Sennet and his comedy troupe came to Catalina to film “The Sea Nymphs” with Ben as one of the stars.
If you were a swimmer, you would frequently find yourself with Ben as your swimming partner. He loved swimming along side others, sometimes switching from one swimmer to the next.
Having become the most popular personality in town, the last verified sighting of Ben was in 1921. Dedicated in 1975, a lovely bronze statue of Ben sits at the edge of Avalon Bay reminding all of the wonderful bond that can exist between people and animals.