Executive Director, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
Greg Gorga is the executive director of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (sbmm.org). He has been with the museum for 10 years and is dedicated to upholding the museum’s mission to preserve and celebrate the maritime legacy of the California Coast. The museum focuses on the discovery and exploration of the Santa Barbara Channel and the area’s marine heritage.
Sea: Please tell me a bit about the history of the museum.
Greg: The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum opened its doors in July 2000. From the beginning, the vision was for it to be the most hands-on, interactive maritime museum on the West Coast, and it takes a wide view of maritime history. So we cover everything from the early Chumash mariners to Spanish Explorers and shipwrecks to surfing, commercial fishing and diving to the 1969 oil spill.
What is the most popular exhibit?
We are home to the First Order Fresnel lens from Point Conception Lighthouse, what I consider to be the most important maritime artifact along the Santa Barbara Channel. Standing 18 feet tall, it has 624 individual pieces of glass and is a thing of beauty. Our most popular interactive exhibit is Sportfishing, where visitors hold a rod and reel and feel it snap in their hand when a fish bites. Then they have to reel it in.
Is there one that is overlooked?
Most overlooked would be the Honda Disaster. In 1923 seven U.S. Navy destroyers crashed on the rocks above Point Arguello, killing 23 sailors. It is considered the largest Naval disaster during peacetime in U.S. history. Our exhibit features an amazing 14-minute video that includes aerial footage taken days after the wreck, an interview with the last living survivor and an explanation of how things went wrong.
What will California boaters find most interesting about the museum?
Our 88-seat Munger Theater features five to six films daily, all included with admission, and we show “West of the West: Tales of the Eight Channel Islands.” Boaters will learn the human history behind these islands, see amazing footage and maybe decide to visit the islands themselves.
What is your favorite piece or facet of the museum?
I like that the SB Maritime Museum really has something for everyone. Our interactive Children’s Gallery is great for ages two through seven, older youth will enjoy the video about Juanna Maria, from “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” and adults will enjoy other films and the vast array of subjects covered. It always amazes me that so much history occurred in this little town, and our maritime heritage goes back thousands of years with the Chumash.
What’s new at SBMM?
In April we opened “The Geology of Oil in Our Santa Barbara Channel” and “Chumash Use of Asphaltum.” Both exhibits will include interactive components and show the important role oil has played in Santa Barbara’s development, going back to the Chumash. We change out our art exhibits every four to six months, and currently we are showing beautiful black and white photography by Ernie Brooks II, considered to be the Ansel Adams of underwater photography.
What’s the oldest artifact that is on display?
We have a whale skull that is believed to be 15 million years old — it boggles the mind! But I also appreciate that the Fresnel Lens is 163 years old and still sparkles like a diamond.
What educational programs are offered at SBMM?
We have two signature programs. We bring Spirit of Dana Point tall ship up from the Ocean Institute and put local fourth-graders, who are studying California history, aboard for the night. They read an abridged version of Richard Henry Dana’s book “Two Years Before the Mast” and spend 18 hours aboard ship, living the life of an 1830s sailor. We also host a Marine Science Program for fourth- through eighth-graders, where youth actually go out on the water aboard the fishing boat Stardust. They collect local marine life in an otter trap, study seals, sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitat, and look at zooplankton under a microscope. We also host school group tours, go out to Science Fairs to teach charting and navigation, and now host quarterly Family Nights, featuring maritime related hands-on activities for youth ages five to 10.
Please tell us more about the programs you offer aboard Stardust and the tall ship Spirit of Dana Point.
For both of these programs we work directly with Santa Barbara County schools, and for the Marine Science Program we have after-school groups participate. Through the generosity of our donors and local foundations, we generally offer these programs free of charge to Title I (low-income) schools and groups. Teachers love these programs, and some base their whole year around the Overnight Program. They say it teaches their students to work together, to speak and listen better, and to participate in the class more; plus, it improves their self-esteem. Studies show that hands-on, interactive programs such as these are especially beneficial for students with language and learning challenges. Our hope is that these programs help students put themselves into any history book they read into the future, and instills in them an appreciation and love for our oceans, and especially for our local Santa Barbara Channel.