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Real Story Behind "Island of the Blue Dolphins"

When I was a kid, I loved reading Scott O’Dell’s 1960 Newbery Medal Award-winning novel Island of the Blue Dophins. Forever after, the story remained in my head, of the indigenous girl left behind with her brother when her people abandoned the island on which they lived. Not long after, her brother died, leaving her alone.

Recently when driving along the coast in the Santa Barbara area, my friend pointed toward the Channel Islands offshore, and mentioned the book was based on a real female whose tribe lived on one of the islands.

Specifically, The Lost Woman was a member of the Nicoleno tribe and was left alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years during the 1800s. A sea otter hunter found her in 1853 and took her o the Santa Barbara Mission, where unfortunately no one spoke her language. She was given the name Juana Maria.

Blew my mind! One of my favorite books took place on one of the mountainous, distant islands right over there!

Suddenly the dolphin part of the story made sense, given that when I posted last week about traveling to Ventura, I included a link to a video of a surfer in the area who was riding a wave along with three dolphins. That and when my friend visited the Channel Islands, she took a guided cruise during which a pod of 200 dolphins swarmed around the ship.

Island + dolphin + real person = (literally) island of the blue dolphins.

Did you know that?


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