Discernible among the recumbent figures on these dark sands is John O'Reilly, donkey breeder (SI, July 8, 1957), baseball reporter (SI, April 1, 1957), friend to whooping cranes (SI, Nov. 21, 1955) and, of late, seal watcher.
For reasons that become clear between the lines of his story in this week's issue, O'Reilly is far from lying down on the job. On the contrary, the assignment he covers (with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Photographer Dick Meek) began about a year ago, when he was energetically scouting in the West for forthcoming events and discoveries in the world of nature. Professor Carl Hubbs, head of the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was outfitting an expedition to cruise some miles off the coast of Lower California to a rocky group of islands inhospitable to man but friendly to seals. Reports had come from these islands that the Townsend fur seal, a species feared extinct, had been rediscovered. O'Reilly asked to accompany the scientists and was accepted.
Recently, when I asked O'Reilly's whereabouts to get from him some anecdotes of the expedition, I was told that he was in Nassau, having been invited by a group of naturalists to consult on the establishment of a Caribbean national park, a sort of open water aquarium or wildlife reservation off the Bahamas. This holds the promise of some equally fascinating O'Reilly, I am sure, later this year.
Seal watcher O'Reilly is also a bird watcher of renown. The most renowned of them all, Roger Tory Peterson, had this to say in his introduction to The Biggest Bird Watch, an O'Reilly article from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that has been included in Peterson's new Bird Watcher's Anthology.
" O'Reilly is perhaps the most satisfying natural history reporter among American newsmen. Whereas the press too often takes the view that unnatural history is more palatable than natural history, O'Reilly has always insisted that the straight unretouched version makes the best reading."
Some of the straightest and best begins on page 16.