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June 29, 2012

Witnesses of the ’89 Quake

Most of the Academy’s 38,000 live animals are relative newcomers, but a handful of them are old-timers who were at the Academy when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck on October 17, 1989. During your next visit, say hello to these silent witnesses of the ground-jolting event 23 years ago.
Pierre, the 29-year-old African penguin

Name: Pierre
Species: African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
Current age: 29
Can be seen: Frolicking with his fellow penguins in African Hall
Fun fact: Pierre wore a custom-designed wetsuit in 2008 to help him stay warm when his feathers molted but didn’t grow back. His natural tuxedo eventually returned, and his story was made into a 2010 children’s book, Pierre the Penguin.

California Academy of Sciences

Name: Bocalo
Species: giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas)
Current age: at least 31
Can be seen: In the California Coast section of the aquarium (lower level)
Fun fact: With his bulging eyes, full lips, and gentle demeanor, Bocalo makes a lasting impression on all who visit his tank. The giant sea bass is a critically endangered species found off the coast of California and Mexico. Fished recreationally and commercially to near extinction since the mid-1800s, it was not protected until the late 1970s. Today, this rarely seen fish is making a gradual comeback due to its slow sexual maturity and a single annual spawn.




Name: Methuselah
Species: Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)
Current age: at least 74
Can be seen: In the Water Planet section of the aquarium (lower level)
Fun fact: Methuselah arrived at the Academy in 1938, and it is believed that he is one of the oldest animals living in a U.S. aquarium. Lungfish live in oxygen-poor pools. They have lungs and gulp air at the surface to supplement their gills.




Name: none
Species: alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii)
Current age: at least 40
Can be seen: In the Swamp exhibit with Claude, the albino alligator
Fun fact: In 1972, airline employees discovered this group of turtles on their way to becoming soup at a San Bruno restaurant. Transporting these animals for food is illegal, so they were turned over to the Academy, where they have lived ever since.




Name: none
Species: alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula)
Current age: at least 63
Can be seen: In the tank opposite the Swamp (lower level)
Fun fact: The intimidating alligator gar is one of North America’s largest freshwater fishes. It is native to the slow-moving rivers and swamps of the southeastern U.S. By imitating a log, this fish can get close to prey, then snap up an unsuspecting meal.


Do you remember the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake? Share your memories in the comment box.

—Andrew Ng

Filed under: Uncategorized — btannenbaum @ 11:11 am


  1. I have many memories of the quake, but the following are my favorites:

    I was a pharmaceutical salesman at the time. On that particular afternoon, I was driving up Van Ness to the Holiday Inn to attend the first evening of a U.S. Military Medical convention which was being held there that week. I was driving when the quake struck, and the car rocked so bad I thought I had driven into a major pothole or a PG&E manhole. People immediately began streaming out of buildings and off the Muni which was directly in front of me and now stopped as the power supply had been interrupted. The DJ on the FM station I was listening to commented “What the hell was that?” I realized then what had happened.

    Anyway, I parked near the Holiday Inn and went inside. Of course, semi-chaos reigned, as power was gone. Hundreds of military personnel were in the main lobby, many of which I must say wished to get their “bags” in the event medical assistance was required. I spoke with one physician who had just flown in from the Midwest & had a room on the top floor. He described to me how the oscillation of the building had tossed both TVs to the floor. My comment to him was “What about that M.A.S.H. mentality?” His reply: “F@#K that, we’re on our way back to Kansas!” A urologist, who was stationed at Letterman Army Hospital told me how he had been jogging down by the Embarcadero and had been “…knocked flat on my a%*!”

    Since it was a convention, I had some promotional “goodies” with me, among which were a number of pen lights to give to the physicians. When the docs found out I was giving them away, I became a VERY popular guy that afternoon(only because the lights were out).

    Comment by John Urbanski — July 7, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  2. I was about 2 minutes shy of getting stuck in an elevator during the quake. But the timing was on my side. My partner and I left the editorial offices of Macworld Magazine about ten minutes early to pick up our car from a South of Market repair shop. As we were walking down Second Street towards Brannan Street, we felt the ground undulate beneath our feet. It was so strange we were certain it was some sort of personal dizzy feeling. So we didn’t say anything aloud.

    Then we noticed that a number of windows in those old factory buildings that we passed had broken or cracked glass. A distraught Japanese man ran across the street yelling, “Shinsai! Shinsai!!”

    At last my partner understood. She had taught English to Japanese speakers in Hamamatsu for two years and told me what he was yelling.

    “We just had an earthquake!”

    At the auto repair shop, the guy was going to move our car and had just turned the key in the ignition when the brick wall in front of him started to buckle and fall. He gunned the car in reverse and saved himself from bodily harm and saved us from having to get a new car.

    That was another lucky near-miss. And from that point, even though not a single traffic light was working, and you couldn’t call out on the phone lines, we were able to make our way back home without incident.

    Comment by btannenbaum — July 9, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

  3. On that shaky afternoon, I was on the N Judah line in the subway approaching the Van Ness station. My dental appointment was at 5:30 at one of the Embarcadero buildings.

    While reading, the train suddenly felt like an aircraft dipping down, then up and feeling light. Everybody looked at everybody else and I mumbled, “What the heck.” Within minutes, our driver announced that the subway must clear out as “there has been an earthquake.” The entire subway system held up beautifully. Our car calmly stopped at the Van Ness station, a few lights went out, yet I didn’t take this seriously until outside of Zim’s Hamburgers, people crowded about looking scared. Glass had fallen across on Market St. no power or traffic lights!! Forget the dentist. I wanted to get home using a diesel bus, the only type running. Made my way down to Geary surveying all the damage and speaking with many people. A cocktail waitress lost all the drinks on her dress in the hotel cocktail lounge.

    Luckily, the 38 Geary line came around, crowded but who cares at this point. Everyone was quiet as we squinted at the now very dark city and getting darker as time wore on. One homeless man was directing traffic and doing a great job.

    Being fascinated with Earth sciences including Astronomy, I remember the beautiful star studded sky clearly seen because of the total lack of lights near the beach. Only candles flickered through windows. I walked home using car headlights to see, (no bus ever came), but between steps, enjoyed and studied the dramatic night sky sparkling above.

    My house in the Outer Sunset was fine, except for a few cracks in the plaster and a fallen bookshelf. It was 9 pm.

    Comment by Joan H. Laurino — July 21, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  4. I was working at a fabric store in Concord that has big plate glass windows at each end. When the earthquake started I was with a customer. We started to walk to the exit but the windows made that not such a good idea. We were standing in the main aisle of the store and could see the floor rising and falling in a wave pattern; until the bolts of fabric dove off their stands like syncronized swimmers, to cover the floor. I only wish I had had a camera, it was so beautiful.

    Comment by Suzy Lutz — August 1, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

  5. I’d just returned from work in the financial district and walked upstairs to find my 100-year-old aunt just when the earthquake struck. We both immediately knew what happened but her health aide didn’t! The aide was terrified and screaming. My aunt and I tried to calm her down, and by the time we suceeded, the quake was over.

    After helping my aunt into her wheelchair, I looked at this survivor of l906, and asked, “Well, what did you think of that one?”
    She shrugged and said “It wasn’t as big as the other one!” Calm as a cucumber, we wheeled her out to the living room. Our only damage was a figurine that fell off the top of a tall cabinet.

    The house, built on a Richmond sandlot in l947, also came through like a champ! My aunt had carefully determined that the location had rocks under the sand from the ridge that runs across the south edge of the Golden Gate before she put her money down.

    I asked her what had frightened her most in 1906. Her answer: “The Militia!”

    She was a young student nurse who had been on night duty in a private hospital at Hyde and Market. She had only four patients, almost ready to go home, but when she found damage to the stairs, she put them on mattresses and pulled them down to street level. Then she pulled them out to the street corner, and waited for rescue. When the doctor/owner arrived and the patients were gone, the two jumped into his buggy and took off to help any injuries they found.

    The Militia (soldiers from the Presidio) were stoping everyone who looked like looters, and held them up at gunpoint. The doctor talked awfully fast to convince them that they were a medical team looking for the injured. My aunt, who was two weeks short of her l8th birthday, was very frightened by the rough was they were treated. That was
    her worst memory of l906. The l989 Loma Prieta quake was nothing much in her personal earthquake book!

    I’m now about to leave the house my family occupied (in my case for 54 years) to an apartment house nearby, and I thought hard about its earthquake safety before I made my decision! I’m 80 now, and if there’s another quake, I’ll try to be as stoic as my aunt was!

    Comment by Lesley Walsh — August 1, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  6. We were on vacation in Mexico and came in to a bar to watch our two hometown teams squaring off in the World Series. From this perspective, I have always fully appreciated the miracle of lives not lost due to the timing of the quake and that game. Watching the news and not realizing that the pancaked freeways were nearly empty of normal rush hour traffic, we were certain that the death tolls at home would be much worse than were initially reported. A heavy bookshelf fell on my co-worker’s desk chair, but he was not there – due to the game. I’m a big believer in earthquake preparedness since we may not get a miracle next time.

    Comment by Carolyn Street — August 1, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  7. I’m a psychiatric nurse, and was working the night shift that night. I was sound asleep when the rumble of the quake woke me instantly and brought me to my feet.

    I went to the spot I’d previously determined to be my safest. When I thought the shaking had probably stopped indefinitely, I got dressed and soon was looking out the window into the dark street below. A good neighbor with a flashlight was directing traffic on the busy intersection by Oak Street on the corner nearest my apartment. He was shot. After that, I decided not to try to get to work that night. Later I learned his was the only gunshot death in that darkness. Very, very sad.

    Comment by Cheri Collins — August 1, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  8. I wasn’t there fo the earthquake, but I heard about it onthe T.V.

    Comment by Mike — August 1, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

  9. I was in the Price Club (now Costco) on Woodside Road in Redwood City. The tires were inside back then. I stood between them and boxes of bicycles that had arrived with the toys being stocked for Christmas.

    I had come in to get just two packages of chicken breasts for chicken and dressing casseroles for a reception after a funeral and had
    n’t bothered with a cart. When the quake started, I was looking at the bicycles. I had nothing to hold onto when it hit and went straight to the floor — unlike people who could hold onto their carts.

    Both tires and boxes rose and fell as I crawled to the end of the aisle as fast as I could. Then, they settled into place almost in perfect order.

    I went to the check out line and was told to get out immediately—no sales would be rung up. Almost nothing had fallen to the floor. Amazing! I went outside only to realize the parking lot would take forever to empty. So I cut short my conversation with others evicted like me.

    I started walking backward slowly through the crowd which wanted to exclaim over the speed with which we all evacuated and how safe we were. And then I ran for my car. That started something of a stampede!

    It took a while to drive the five miles home, but all drivers were very polite. At home, all that was disturbed was the little aquarium in the breakfast area where about a cup of water was on the floor, and two goldfish lay gasping. One recovered; one was a casualty.

    My husband was a pilot and ended his trip later that day in Phoenix. The TV news showed the fires in the Marina along with the collapse of the Oakland freeway. Phones were overburdened and he could not get me, so he called his sister in Midland, Texas. I had been able to get through to her and to a son who lived in Scottsdale right after I got home, as I got to a phone before the lines were overburdened later.

    I called during the afternoon commute and many thousands could not call because they were in their cars instead of at work or at home –or at Candlestick Park!

    Comment by Sabra Dupree — August 1, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

  10. I had the garage door open as I stood beside my husband’s 1967, GTA, 390, fastback, black Mustang.

    I was going to catch a long ladder which was tied to the ceiling of the garage to save the car. It didn’t fall. My husband was trying to park the truck on the street as the street was making waves. The truck wouldn’t move. I thought, “He thinks something is wrong with the truck”. Those were the first words he spoke after the quake stopped. I can visualize those waves still.

    Comment by Anita Kamaka — August 2, 2012 @ 8:44 am

  11. I was hurrying home to watch my A’s and Giants battle it out when my tires started going thumpy-thump on the undulating freeway between Orinda and Lafayette.

    ‘Oh no,” I thought. “Someone shot my tires out.”I looked in my rearview mirror and every car had pulled over. Then I looked ahead and cars were driving as fast as they could. I followed them and got to Danville in less then 7 minutes. Yes, I was breaking the law, but I got home safe and sound.

    I watched tv for the next 9 hrs. So much stuff, I will never forget: A totally blacked-out SF city and the fires burning in the Marina District…shots of oakland freeway flattened like a pancake…people helping people get out of cars that were under freeways..amazing memories!

    Comment by nancy kc — August 3, 2012 @ 8:37 am

  12. After the quake my family and neighbors gathered on the sidewalk. Wondering what was going on as nobody had a portable radio. It took us nearly 45 minutes before someone finally realized we all had a portable radio — in our cars!

    Comment by David M. — August 11, 2012 @ 12:34 pm

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Secrets of the Shake House

Shake House is back for the new Earthquake Exhibit.
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