1971 Oil Tanker Collision Under Golden Gate Bridge

"I was there..."

On January 18, 1971, two Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) oil tankers (the Arizona Standard and the Oregon Standard) collided in the fog under the Golden Gate Bridge, spilling approximately 800,000 gallons of oil into the turbulent waters there. From this disaster and the widespread destruction of aquatic bird life, spontaneous efforts to save oil-soaked birds led to the founding of the International Bird Rescue organization. This is an account published as a comment on the Bird Rescue website in 2015.

by Doug Jones


Oil fouls the famously white sands of Stinson Beach after the January 1971 oil spill in the Golden Gate.

Photo: Pierre La Plante

I started the voluntary activity to clean up the oil and get Standard Oil to do something about it, before the tankers gushed out everything. My roommate in San Rafael, Eddie Lejarza and I started calling others and then quickly KRON TV and KPIX to request help. If the TV stations have kept the archives they can trace the telephone # they displayed on the screen as ours. We were 21-22.

I was returning into Marin over the GG on my motorcycle the day after the collision. I stopped to observe the mess. I was angry and upset that the black gunk was gushing out and heading to the shores and out the gate. It was going to ruin the shores of what I had called home for my entire life to that point. The ships were just sitting there and NO ONE was doing anything. I was fed up with Standard Oil as I’d grown up with the Richmond refinery pollution since being born in San Rafael in ’49.

So Eddie and I decided to do something about it. We suddenly realized we were the point persons and the calls poured in day and night—eventually from all over the world. We quickly created a name—Marin Ecology something (Center as I recall). In less than two weeks tens of thousands of people had swarmed the bay perimeters and out Point Reyes etc. We called on truck owners to haul hay bales and even pizza delivery to feed volunteers. Volunteers came from all over the state and eventually out of state.


Volunteers and Chevron employees working at Ocean Beach to control the oil spill, 1971.

Photo: Dennis O'Rorke, courtesy OpenSFHistory.org

Finally Standard Oil called us to negotiate a “call off the dogs,” shortly after a break your Standard Oil Credit Card demonstration in downtown San Francisco became very successful and got enough press to look serious. A Scandinavian oil company called us and tried very hard to get Standard Oil to at least talk to them about solutions to the spill problem that they had used successfully. It included a biologic life that ate the oil, and boom methods to keep a large percentage of the crude oil from drifting. Standard Oil completely ignored them.

When the clean-up momentum became so large, biology and animal science professionals became seriously involved and the experiments to save the birds started showing signs of success. Eddie and I went back to our regular jobs. We felt we had accomplished what we set out to do—and then some. Not long after, I left San Rafael for San Diego State University. Eddie pursued a medical career I think.

Less than 10 years later I discovered that someone had taken credit for the name and founding of Marin Ecology Center. That irritated me as it was completely false. I didn’t have time to pursue it as I was raising three little boys and a career etc.—visiting Marin from San Diego only occasionally.

I don’t think it’s uncommon when one looks far enough back into incidents or events that have made a bigger than average mark in time or history to find that the inceptions often came from more common and average people like Eddie and I.


One of two bird rescue centers set up on Ocean Beach. Poor Richard's was a grassroots effort by locals.

Photo: Dennis O'Rorke, courtesy OpenSFHistory.org