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Bone Collector Helps Scientific Research

Ray "Bones" Bandar's collection of animal skulls is on display at the California Academy of Sciences
Ray "Bones" Bandar's collection of animal skulls is on display at the California Academy of Sciences
Dave Boitano/photo

If anyone deserves the nickname “Bones” It’s Raymond Bandar.

And while he is not the emotional doctor on “Star Trek” or the attractive anthropologist on the Fox television show, Bandar’s fascination with animal skulls has been at the heart of his life-long hobby.

His vast collection of specimens is on display at the California
Academy of Sciences now through Nov. 30 as part the “Skulls” exhibit on the building’s second floor.

Scientists use the skulls for research into the lives of the animals that once inhabited the remains. By examining the teeth, researchers gain new insights into the animal’s diet of even if it suffered from disease.

One wall is dominated by a swarm of sea lion skulls displayed as if they are part of a wave.

Elsewhere, visitors can view the hulking visage of a bull elephant or the menacing sight of a tiger skull baring its large teeth.

But it was a sea lion that got Bandar, now 86, into the bone collecting business.

While body surfing in Kelly’s Cove off San Francisco’s Ocean Beach Bandar came across a dead harbor seal.

For reasons he still can’t explain, Bandar cut the animal’s head off with a knife he was carrying and took the remains with him.

To get the flesh off, Bandar placed the head into a large pot of water and began to boil the meat.

“And did it stink up the house,” he said. “I opened up the front door and the back door to get the smell out. When my parents got home that night they weren’t too happy.”

His association with the Academy of Sciences began in the 1940’s when Bandar collected snakes and other animals for the academy earning him the nickname of “Reptile Ray.”

Bandar’s finds were displayed in terrariums surrounding the Alligator pond in the old Steinhart Aquarium prior to the building’s complete overhaul.

“if you looked at one of the smaller ones (terrariums) it had my name on it. I was so proud.”

Bandar became a biology and anatomy teacher at Oakland’s Fremont High School and his dissection labs were anything but dull.

Students worked on the bodies of animals that had died at the San Francisco and Oakland zoos including a chimpanzee.

The experience was invaluable, even to those who would go on to medical school where dissection was an integral part of the curriculum.

“They do dissections in medical school but they didn’t get what they got in my class because in medical school, everything is embalmed,” he said.

Bandar’s home is full of specimens and the entire collection will eventually be given to the academy.

For more on the “Skulls” exhibit visit:

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