John Olguin dies at 89; director of San Pedro’s Cabrillo Marine Museum


John Olguin, whose enthusiasm for the ocean made him a perfect teacher for generations of youngsters who visited the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, has died. He was 89.

Olguin, the longtime director of what was then called the Cabrillo Marine Museum, died Saturday at his home in San Pedro, said his daughters, Vi Olguin and Moni Olguin-Patten. No cause was given.

Olguin was a Cabrillo Beach lifeguard captain when he became director of the museum in 1949. During the ensuing decades he started educational programs that introduced children and others to such topics as grunion, tide pools and whales.


“He was Mr. San Pedro. We lost a guiding light,” said Mike Schaadt, the aquarium’s director. “The things we do, most of them were started by John. He made the public programs come alive.”

Olguin was known for his exuberance, teaching students by making them dance like a jellyfish or a grunion. “Children learn from example,” he told The Times in 1981. “What you experience is part of your life.”

John Main Olguin was born Feb. 18, 1921, in San Pedro. His father, Roy, came to California from Mexico in 1910 and married Josie Main of Long Beach.

Olguin started working as a lifeguard in 1937 and graduated from San Pedro High School in 1941. He won a Silver Star while in the Army from 1942 to 1945, serving in New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan.

The Cabrillo Beach museum started modestly in the mid-1930s when the city of Los Angeles moved a Venice Beach lifeguard’s collection of shells and other items to a vacant bathhouse at Cabrillo Beach.

William Lloyd, a retired dentist, became the museum director and Olguin started helping him, Schaadt said. When Lloyd retired in 1949, Olguin became lifeguard captain and director.


“I enrolled in biology classes at universities and junior colleges and soaked up as much knowledge as I could,” he told The Times in 1995. “I told them, ‘I don’t care about the credit, all I want to do is learn.’ ”

A charter member of the American Cetacean Society and founder of the Cabrillo Whalewatch naturalist-training program, Olguin became known as the father of recreational whale watching, persuading sports fishermen to allow the use of their boats for the trips.

“He was continuously seeing what the ocean had to offer,” said his daughter, Vi.

He was director or co-director until he retired in 1987, becoming the director emeritus. The museum changed its name to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in 1993.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a marine biologist and marine science teacher at San Pedro High School’s marine science magnet, said Olguin was “an inspiration for his enthusiasm. That kid in him was always there. He was very interested in kids, he’d do anything he could to get them engaged.”

Schulman-Janiger recalled watching Olguin tell students on a whale-watching trip about some approaching dolphins. “He’d practically be hopping up and down. Kids would pick up that enthusiasm,” she said.

Olguin remained active at the aquarium and was involved over the years in several other local organizations. He also helped establish the Point Fermin Marine Life Refuge.


In addition to his daughters, who live in San Pedro, Olguin is survived by his wife, Muriel; son John Cabrillo Olguin of Flagstaff, Ariz.; brothers Leonard of La Habra Heights and Albert of San Pedro; sisters Belia Olguin Smith of Rancho Palos Verdes and Esther Olguin Riggs of Manson, Wash; and four grandchildren.

Services will be private. The family is planning a public memorial.