Tim Rudnick grew up on Venice Beach.
“I see myself as a child all the time. I look around and have memories,” he says.
His memories of the beach are better than what he sees now.
“We’ve done an enormous amount of damage to the beach in the last 50 years. It’s going to get worse unless there is some way to turn it around and get people thinking about the way it functions as a natural environment,” he adds.
About 15 years ago, Tim took a trip to Mendocino. He hadn’t had a vacation in years and needed to get away and relax. His time spent swimming in the ocean opened his eyes to personal discoveries. In order to keep these discoveries alive on his return, he decided to continue his swims at home.
“I became convinced that the ocean is fundamental to what we are as living animals. It’s not just a pretty spot to watch the sunset but the air pressure, the taste of the water, laying on the sand — all these things are fundamental to the kinds of beings we are,” Tim says.
“Since then, I have ascribed to the hypothesis that we are an aquatic or water marine primate. An ocean antecedent of some sort is suggested by the fact that we are the only primate with two tear ducts like sea gulls and fat under our skin to keep us warm like other sea mammals,” he adds.
Tim also compares practically naked humans lying on the beach for hours and hours to sea lions.
“My feeling is that this connection, besides being aesthetic, is primal. I think of the ocean as a place where real consciousness raising could occur — like a spiritual center,” he says.
It was a dead baby thornback on the beach that brought forth the idea of trying to bring back the flora and fauna that Tim remembered as a child. It was at this time that he started Venice Oceanarium.
In a marine biology class at Santa Monica College, he wrote a term paper on how to convert the Venice Pavilion into a marine museum.
“I really got into that and thought it was a great idea,” he says. However, Tim realized he didn’t have the financing for the renovation so he decided to start activities that wouldn’t cost any money.
While doing research for the paper, Tim met John Olguin, founder of the Cabrillo Marine Museum.
Thirty years ago, as a lifeguard at Venice Beach, John set up card tables on the beach with specimens to show people.
After being transferred to San Pedro, he became associated with the director of a forgotten museum in a small corner of a recreation center.
He drummed up support, got grants and turned the dinky space into a world-class museum. John told Tim to do the same.
Tim started activities, set up card tables, had nature walks, read from Moby Dick and Cannery Row, had a grunion party and took people on research vessels that continue to this day.
“At least we had a program even if we didn’t have a facility. It became a creative outlet, but at the same time, wasn’t doggedly bureaucratic in the sense of having a lot of money and grants and meetings and all the things that go along with an established organization,” says Tim.
“Clearly now I’m at a point where I have to establish this as a more permanent idea, lay it out and realize it.”
Earlier this month, 1,000 people attended a grunion party. “We had a phenomenal turnout of people and grunion,” says Tim.
“It means that Venice is a window into the natural world, not just for tourists.”
Tim’s activities attract people from all over — from the Midwest and East Coast to San Bernardino and San Diego. He knows they’re especially a treat for kids who have never seen the ocean.
Tim has his own definition of museum in terms of Oceanarium.
“The word museum means a place where the muse is celebrated. So, we are looking at this as a highly decentralized low impact place where the ocean is celebrated, free to the public,” he says.
“It’s about the whole thing — sea shanties, songs, literature mixed up with biology and chemistry. We’ll have folk singers singing at the same time scientists are talking about the sand.”
The plan is laid out. It starts at the pier at Washington Boulevard and continues to the breakwater at Windward Avenue.
Tim envisions two aquariums at the end of the pier — one on the pier and the second below it.
There would be exhibits, for instance, on sand and weather — things that have to do with shoreline activities.
The breakwater is a strategic location.
“One of the things that is unique about this idea is that it puts the marine museum in the middle of a place where all the people are,” he says.
“Most museums are not where people are. People have to go to them.”
There’s a plan for an extensive renovation of the breakwater area and the development of tide pools. This would involve introducing new thornback rays, grasses, kelp and rocks.
“This is a good area for rocks because there’s an area of sand in a triangular section that’s created by the breakwater and it makes this a dangerous place to swim but a good place for rocks to be held securely,” Tim says.
The area around it would be used for exhibits that would be set up during the day and taken down at night. “Low impact, no building — exhibits like information placards and microscopes,” he adds.
Oceanarium has gone through several changes during the years and it continues to evolve. Next on the agenda is to get nonprofit status.
“We need to solicit funds in order to develop more in-depth programs,” says Tim. There is an Advisory Board that includes Ed Tarvyd, a noted marine biology instructor at Santa Monica College and Rim Fay, a marine chemist who discovered DDT in the Santa Monica Bay and who was the first president of the Coastal Commission.
Membership starts at $5. Patron and Benefactor levels are also available. “I’m more interested in involvement than $5,” Tim says. Information on Venice Oceanarium is available at (310) 396-7974 or at
“People aren’t even aware that there are native plants that grow in the sand. Birds and insects depend on these. If there are no native plants, there are no butterflies.
“It’s not a matter of bringing the beach back to where it was. We need to re-landscape it with a consciousness of natural elements as opposed to sunglasses, boats, surfboards and roller-skating.
“You can do that anywhere.
“I use swimming as a ritual to remind me of my connection to the beach — to develop a consciousness that there is nature here besides the tourist attraction,” says Tim.
“I want to spend the rest of my life on the beach,” he adds. “To work on the beach would be a great calling.”