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People I'm proud to know: Ray Bandar, bone and snake collector

My Dad introduced me to Ray Bandar when I was a child. I thought his rattlesnake collection was awesome, and one of my strongest memories of him was playing with his tarantula in the basement snake room.

The one thing that is not mentioned in this article is that Ray as no sense of smell. This is important, because at one point he put a dead porpoise in his trunk and forgot about it until the police pulled him over on suspicion of murder because of the smell.

"Film captures collector's haunting hobby: 'Bones' and his life with skulls:

Ray Bandar's wife lost the battle for the bathtub a decade ago.

Her husband, a science teacher at Oakland's Fremont High, was retiring, and all his biology specimens came home.

"I couldn't find a place for the moose antlers," said Bandar, 79, "so I put them (in the bathtub). She's not too happy about it. She hasn't been able to take a bath here for about 10 years."

Good thing the shower works.

Their tiny San Francisco home overflows with skulls and bones that Bandar has collected during more than 50 years as a volunteer field associate for the California Academy of Sciences.

Besides the bathtub ornament, he has more than 6,000 skull specimens: more than 1,700 California sea lion skulls, 120 elephant seal skulls and one romantic horse head. That one was collected on his honeymoon with his wife, Alkmene, in 1954.

"I actually encouraged it. I thought it was beautiful, very aesthetically pleasing," said Alkmene Bandar in an Academy of Sciences magazine article. "I just didn't think it was going to take over."

Ray Bandar's obsession will be featured Sunday in a film by Beth Cataldo at the fourth annual San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. The weekend festival, the biggest of its kind in North America, includes work from 31 filmmakers from around the world.

Cataldo met Bandar in 2003 at the old California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, before it closed for reconstruction, at an exhibit called Skulls, many of them Bandar's.

"What struck me about Ray," Cataldo said, "is what an amazing storyteller he is. For five hours, he told a different story about each and every (skull) and I was amazed. And I'm not even a science person."

Bandar, a San Francisco native, grew up in the city's Richmond District when much of the neighborhood was still sand dunes. His first marine mammal specimen was collected after a day of body surfing near Playland at the Beach in the early '50s.

On the way back to the Great Highway he passed a dead sea lion, and the rest is history.

He didn't get his nickname, "Bones," until the early '80s. He was known as Rattlesnake Ray from high school until then. The child of one of the Academy's security guards used to see him coming in with collections of bones from the beach, and just started calling him "Bones."

Cataldo said she is amazed that Bandar's prodigious life work was done as a volunteer.

"I'm not sure how much longer he'll be able to tell his stories, and I wanted to make sure they got recorded," she said.

Last week, despite the winter chill, Bandar was back in the frigid water at Baker Beach, less than a mile from where he found his first specimen, his eyes scanning the shoreline for yet another one.

Reach photojournalist Karl Mondon at 925-943-8358 or kmondon@cctimes.com.

The fourth Annual San Francisco Ocean Film Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday in the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.

"A Life with Skulls," a film by Beth Cataldo, plays Sunday during the 10 a.m. program.
Tags: animals, family, friends, lives_i_don't_lead, snakes

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