Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mavericks 2009 Season Extended

The world's greatest big-wave surfers and their fans have been given another eight days to see if the Pacific Ocean will produce a near-50 ft swell, enough for the spectacular Mavericks Surf Contest to go ahead at Half Moon Bay.

The big-wave surf contest is considered by many to be the most dangerous in the world and has an open season between January and the end of March.

The contest at Mavericks was due to officially close at midnight last night - without a surfer riding the waves. But weather forecasts of a possible storm have given hope that there may be a heaving ocean between now and April 8.

On 24-hour alert during season time are 24 of many of the world's greatest big-wave surfers, specially invited by legendary founder and Contest Director, Jeff Clark. Equally on alert, through email and text links, are thousands of fans across California, and beyond, who are ready to rush to the tiny beach to watch the breathtaking event, or grab tickets to see a live satellite feed at the Giants' AT & T Park in San Francisco.

From the city, Half Moon Bay is about an hour's drive down the Pacific Coast. Some fans who hope to watch at the AT & T Park have already bought their $20 tickets.

This morning the media had been informed of the extension - NBC announced it on their morning broadcast - but by 10 am so far nothing had been posted on the Mavericks website, nor had anything been sent to fans via email or text alerts.

The www.maverickssurf.com website - 'screen grabs' above - remains the same as it has done since the opening of the season.

Opening Ceremonies were held in anticipation in January, and four sets of heats were drawn by the picking of a golf ball from a bucket. Many of the surfers, including last year's champion, Greg Long, from San Clemente, south of LA, have been photoed surfing down there since November.

This year is the fifth contest and carries with it the largest ever prize of $150,000. Last year in a private pact the top six surfers shared the prize equally among themselves.

The Mavericks website poses and answers the question, 'Who are the 24?.... - those with the courage and commitment to mount an assault on the pounding Mavericks surf; to face the detonating bombs; to challenge the site that CNN has called "the world’s most dangerous wave".

These riders,' it says, 'are presented with waves as high as 50 feet, remarkably strong currents, dangerous rocks, shallow reefs, and frigid water temperatures. In summary, Mavericks is like no other place on the planet.'

Jeff Clark grew up just north of Half Moon Bay and as a 17-year-old was the first person ever to surf Mavericks in 1975. He continued to surf there alone for 15 years, until the surfing world finally realized that the Mavericks wave was no myth.

'Mavericks is really the only spot that still holds its own in paddle-surfing,' he says on his website. 'It's the biggest, baddest paddle-in spot in the world. When Waimea Bay (Hawaii ) closes out, Mavericks is still ripping. When it comes to who's paddling into the biggest waves on this planet, it's the guys that surf here.'

Today he not only runs the contest but Mavericks Surf Shop, designing and making surfboards and surfing gear including clothes and accessories. The store is in Half Moon Bay.

***see next blog for April 1 breaking news info on stunning 100ft wave surfing barrier broken several hundred miles off the Chilean coastline!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 13

The 'emergency' helicopter left the scene of the TV pilot Trauma this evening, but not before flames once again shot from the stricken fuel tanker and smoke surrounded it - see previous blogs for stories

On the highway over Mission Creek it was action again. At 7 pm the helicopter's blades whirred.

Behind it the smoke that had been seen thinly all day by the tanker began to thicken, and suddenly flames burst out of the top of it.

The chopper lifted slowly off the highway and dipping its nose headed purposefully over the creek and towards the bay.

In the story, one of the victims to be ferried to hospital - there may be more - is one of a group of four young baseball players being driven by one of their mums. An interview with the boys is in an earlier blog.

Traffic was halted for a few minutes but flowed smoothly within minutes of the take-off. Filming on the highway is continuing through Wednesday.

pics by Chris

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 12

An 'emergency' helicopter landing on the expressway over Mission Creek this afternoon left casual observers open-mouthed!

'I'm ducking for cover!' said Dave, standing there with fellow workers James and Reed as filming of the NBC pilot Trauma took on another dramatic turn - see previous blogs for yesterday's spectacular fireball and other stories

'He's way too close!' said James. The three men could scarcely believe their eyes as the blue and white chopper descended almost above our heads and appeared to barely clip the concrete sides of the highway.

But as it turned out minutes later, it was all a case of perspective. Taking a pic from another angle showed that the chopper was in fact well above the sides of the highway. Still, it will be a moment to be remembered!

As the helicopter landed, small explosions could be heard around the tanker on the film set where throughout the day thin wisps of smoke have been rising up. The pilot features paramedics rushing to the rescue of a multi-vehicle pile-up and tanker explosion.

By 3 pm the helicopter was circling the area and making a couple of low fly-pasts before landing successfully on the highway.

Traffic on the northbound Interstate 280 that runs over the creek and past the foot of Potrero Hill has mostly been slowed to a crawl today.

pics show: the helicopter has landed!; descending over the concrete; making a fly-past over the highway and creek with Potrero Hill in the background; Dave, James and Reed.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 11

It's been a life and death experience for these four boys today: they have been involved in a car crash with an exploding tanker and for one still to come, there is a helicopter airlift to hospital with an emergency tracheotomy performed mid-flight.

But at 5.30 pm these young actors in baseball outfits were happy and healthy along the creek at Mission Bay and waiting to see the tanker blow up - all part of the NBC Universal Media Studios pilot, Trauma, an action drama based on the heroics of paramedics - see previous blogs

The boys, pictured with supporting actress Aimee, are 'car pool' kids travelling with one of their mums when the terrible accident occurs. Their car crashes into another in the multiple pile-up around the tanker.

'It's kind of hard work, but when you're doing it it's really fun being on set with all the actors,' said ten-year-old Joseph, the one who will undergo the tracheotomy.

'It was really fun,' said ten-year-old Anthony. 'It's a good way to get out of the house for a bit.'

'It's kind of hard work. It tires you out a lot,' said ten-year-old Max. 'It can be fun at times but most of it is hard work.'

'I enjoyed it,' said 12-year-old Devohn.

The boys were working for Beau Bonnaeu Casting with three of them being picked from details sent in by their mums. Only Joseph auditioned.

Would the boys like to be actors when they were older?

They all said they would. 'I'd love to be an actor,' said Joseph.

'Most likely,' said Max, and added with a sense of realism, 'but all actors need a different job as well.'

Their favourite TV shows and movies?

For Devohn it was the movie, Dude, Where's My Car?, Anthony, Superhero the Movie, Max, the TV show Drake and Josh, while Joseph chose the movie, Taken, CSI, Nickleodeon and Disney.

Supporting actress, Aimee, had been doing some acting with the boys.

'It's been fun, it's been our first day,' she said. But she had certainly experienced the actors' trials of long drawn-out days.

'We did one scene then broke for lunch and then we've been waiting for five hours,' she said.

She didn't have much longer to wait. The helicopters were overhead and soon the spectacular fireball burst out of the tanker.

'I think that's exciting. It's so great that the boys got to be part of that,' said Anthony's mum, Diane.

After a night's rest the boys will be back on scene tomorrow, once more transformed into the traumatised victims of a horrific crash.

pic shows: Devohn, Anthony, Joseph and Max with Aimee

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 10

At the top of the small jetty on the creek, Patrick as an amateur photographer was celebrating the success of capturing great shots of the exploding fire tanker - see previous blogs

'I got a really good shot!' he started to say.

'That was very cool!' suddenly said a young woman tapping me excitedly on the arm as she passed by.

Patrick had had the help of the 'fire squad' who had been tuning in to the action on their radios.

'We did a countdown,' he said. 'First they said there was a fire in the hole (of the tanker), then we counted down. That's why I had my camera at the spot and was able to get the good shots.'

He flicked through his camera replay to show me.

Billowing flames exploding over the creek, the houseboats and the expressway. A one-off capturing of an event that will never be repeated here at Mission Bay.

Filming of the pilot will continue on the expressway for the next three days and around the city for another three weeks. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Film Commission are hoping that this $7 million pilot earner will translate into a production bringing jobs, profit and prestige to the city.

pics: more of the tanker explosions still in sequence from previous blog, and helicopters flying overhead - pics by Chris; Patrick at the top of the jetty

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 9

They said 'fireball'. And it was!!!


Even though we were expecting it over the creek at Mission Bay, the boom and the ferocity of flames that appeared to cover the tanker took everyone by surprise. A flock of seagulls rose over the water squawking raucously, two helicopters circled low in tandem.

This was special effects, true Hollywood style. And there were no disappointments as NBC Universal faked the crucial scene for their TV pilot, Trauma, that involves a tanker crash on the expressway with a multiple car and taxi pile-up - see previous blogs for interviews and action throughout yesterday and today.

'It was good! Fantastic! said Brad, the dad I had interviewed last night with his six-year-old son, Connor. As Brad turned to leave he said, 'That's a lot of smoke! Wow! That was amazing!' the accolades were growing by the second.

'I loved that!' said Connor.

It had been a long wait. The action had been promised for some time between 1 pm and 4 pm, but the clock ticked over the deadline - with nothing!

Then 4.30 pm passed and the gathered crowd from earlier in the afternoon dissipated. Even Jackie and Janaya who had travelled across the Bay especially to see the filming disappeared as late afternoon shadows fell over the creek.

Crew had cut a hole in the roof of the tanker for the explosives to shoot through. In final 'prep', a camera boom was seen focussing on the tanker and an NBC news van arrived on the other side of the creek, parked at a safe distance below the expressway and put up its antennae ready to catch the action for its evening news broadcast.

The first helicopter arrived sometime between 5.15 pm and 5.30 pm and circled over the creek and expressway. It was joined by the second after 5.30 pm.

At 5.50 pm, Brad, standing there with binnoculars, said, 'They're bringing in the actors. It's a lot of waiting,' he added, 'It wouldn't be the industry for me!'

Suddenly, kaboom! We were in the midst of it! Socks nearly blown off!

pics by Chris show the explosion in sequence: the first explosion timed at 5.52 pm

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 8

Along the creek at Mission Bay a surprisingly small crowd of onlookers have gathered to watch the pyro-technic display of a tanker exploding on the expressway above.

Several in the crowd had heard that the action would be at 2.30 pm but at nearly 4 pm were still waiting.

By about 2.30 pm there had been some movement of vehicles. Support trucks carrying props moved away and a red and white ambulance - the ambulance
service in the USA is run by Fire Departments - manoeuvred close to the tanker.

Not too long after, three police cars formed a line behind the ambulance.

At 3.50 pm an NBC news van is pulling up across the

creek. The pilot TV film, Trauma, an action drama featuring brave paramedics to the rescue, is being made by NBC Universal Media Studios in association with Film 44.

Among the waiting crowd was Jackie with daughter, Janaya, who had travelled across the Bay Area to be here.

'It's something exciting to see!' said Jackie, as she sat on a bench by the Kayak House opposite the houseboats.

'It's something you don't see every day,' said Janaya.

'We've just moved back from LA,' said Jackie.' When we go to Santa Monica on Highway 1 we can see them sometimes filming on the beach, but we've never stopped,' she said.

So is this the closest you've been to a film shoot?

'Pretty much, yeah!' she said.

Janaya, who preferred not to have her pic taken, is a fan of drama and action movies. Her favourite TV shows are Law and Order, Criminal Intent and CSI Las Vegas, while her favourite film is Four Brothers.

pics show: the tanker with scenes being shot around it; Jackie; the end of Mission Creek by the Kayak House; and a view of the creek down towards Fourth Street

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 7

By 11 am friendly police officers were out on the junction at King and Fourth Streets, starting to redirect traffic in early preparation for the explosive fireball that will shoot skywards over Mission Creek. (see previous blogs)

A drama that will send its paramedic stars rushing heroically to the rescue in the ensuing multi-car pileup.

The explosion, said SFPD officer, John, will take place between 1 pm and 4 pm, but signs that the big action is about to happen will be when helicopters hover over the crash site ready for their role.

Rescue helicopters will be landing as part of the NBC TV pilot Trauma, as well as being used to film the scene.

Around the corner on Berry Street, Miguel - 'Mike' - and Angel were preparing lunch for the hungry crews. If you're going to spend the day around an exploding tanker and involved in a major accident as victim or rescuer, you've got to eat!

And the food looked very good, with salads and desserts.

Mike, from LA, and Angel, from San Francisco were working with an LA catering company and Mike had been there since 2.20 am and Angel since 3.20 am! They are catering for 200 people.

'We're the holy catering company!' joked Angel, in reference to his name, pronounced in Spanish without the 'g' sound, and Mike's being the same as the biblical angel, Michael.

pics show: Mike and Angel; SFPD officer, John, blocking off the King Street junction

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 6

More pics of the scene on King Street at 8.30 am today as crews get ready for today's filming of the TV pilot 'Trauma' (see previous blogs)

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 5

'Right now it's a schemozzle! It's very dangerous up there!' said Andrea, who with colleague Mick was manning a rail of warm clothes for shivery filmmakers.

She has been part of the

action every day since the making of the NBC TV pilot 'Trauma' took to the streets of San Francisco. Early this morning she was on site on the corner of a side street near the off-ramp of King Street.

'Right now they're going to shoot the aftermath of the accident,' she said, with a taxi being filmed sideways on into the tanker.

But the accident scene itself will be something different!

The 'crash' scene is a multi-car crash with a tanker that is being readied for a

pyro-technic explosion, and safety is the key.

'We have big safety meetings. They keep people who don't have to be there away. There's a lot of broken glass. It's very dangerous,' she stressed. 'That's the nature of things.'

As if to illustrate the point, a private ambulance was parked only yards away, and a row of three red and white San Francisco ambulances were opposite her on King Street.

Andrea and Mick are 'local hires' and represent the union IATSE - the International Association of Theater Stage Emplyees. Most of the clothes for the filming are either purchased or rented, she said.

pics show: Andrea in the orange hat and Mick in a red top; breakfast for the workers in the side street; city ambulances waiting to play their part; private ambulance.

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 4

Before 8 am this morning, a large crowd of people involved in the filming of a TV pilot called Trauma had gathered around the tanker that will be the scene of a gigantic explosion this afternoon. (see previous blogs)

Action will include a fireball, billowing smoke, and helicopters overhead.

The tanker was moved into place yesterday evening at the end of the day's filming and is seen sitting over the houseboats at the end of Mission Creek, not far from the off-ramp at King Street.

Trauma is a drama about paramedics who rush heroically to save lives. It is being made by NBC Universal Media Studios in association with Film 44 and filming will continue in the city for about four weeks.

The pilot alone is expected to bring in about $7 million in revenue for the city. Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Film Commission who have welcomed the filming are desperately hoping that the main production will take place in the city not just for the direct financial income but also for the creation of about 340 jobs and the wider boost to tourism that a popular TV series would bring. (see http://lizinsanfrancisco.blogspot.com/2009/03/film-shoot.html for more details)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 3

'It's pretty crazy out there!' said a young guy who had been out and about today with the filming of NBC's pilot TV show, 'Trauma'.

'It's Hollywood, it's not real, but it definitely makes it feel real!' he said.

Not wishing to give his name, he said the 'accident' bringing emergency responders rushing to the rescue, involved a tanker truck, a BMW and a Lexus.

By early evening, a yellow taxi also involved in the filming - some scenes were shot from it - was parked at the end of the off-ramp on King Street. Other vehicles carrying props were exiting from the scene.

Tomorrow, residents around the creek at Mission Bay are gearing up for a day of drama with a pyro-technic explosion and a whirr of helicopters overhead.

No-one knows exactly what time the explosion will be, said my commentator, 'but there will only be one! You can't put the pieces back together again!'

As dusk fell, a white tanker could be seen in place just overhead from the row of houseboats that rock gently on the creek.

A California Highway Patrol officer said this morning that there would be a wide closure of streets around the area while the explosion took place.

Meanwhile this evening residents were strolling around the creek to try and glimpse the action. Dad Brad was out with his six-year-old son, Connor.

'I think it's exciting, but it's causing a lot of traffic holdups,' said Brad, who with Connor is hoping to catch sight of the explosion tomorrow.

'It's great for San Francisco to have a film made in the city.'

pics show: a truck carrying props exiting on King Street; a Universal City Studios truck; the yellow taxi now parked overnight that was used in the filming; Brad and six-year-old Connor checking out the scene on Mission Creek

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 2

It's been a terrible accident! A BMW, a Lexus and a tanker truck collided on the expressway - and the 'carnage' is being carried away.

Not for real, though.

NBC Universal are filming their pilot action drama, 'Trauma', and tonight on King Street Greg was transporting some of the props to safe overnight storage.

He has spent the day on the expressway above the creek at Mission Bay making sure all the vehicles are pyro-technic proof,

ready for the 'big explosion' that will happen sometime tomorrow afternoon.

For Greg, his responsibility has been to make sure fuel cells don't explode, gas tanks are empty and that there are no injuries arising from explosive accidents with the vehicles.

pics show: Greg and a smashed up BMW; police guarding the off-ramp on King Street at 7.30 pm and co-ordinating between Greg and a police escort to take the damaged BMW to an overnight spot

Film Shoot of TV Pilot 'Trauma' 1

Filming began early this morning on a TV drama pilot, 'Trauma', featuring emergency services dealing with a crashed tanker truck.

The 'accident' is taking place on the expressway by the King Street off-ramp at Sixth Street. By 5.00 am members of the California Highway Patrol were blocking off the street and by 10 am a small crowd had gathered.

However, members of the public who were on foot were kept well away from the action, only the tips of which could be seen over the creek at Mission Bay.

For motorists, several lanes of the highway remained open so they had a fleeting glance of the filming.

The most dramatic scenes occur tomorrow when there will be a fireball and billowing smoke, and helicopters will be overhead throughout the day.

Residents in the area received notification during the week.

Trauma, which is a working title, is described in a *press release from Mayor Gavin Newsom's office as 'an action-packed, high-octane medical drama.' It is based around a group of paramedics who risk their lives and perform great feats of heroism to save others.

Cast who will be displaying heroism as they rush towards an exploding tanker truck include Derek Luke of Notorious, Cliff Curtis of 10,000 BC, Anastasia Griffith of Damages, Aimee Garcia of George Lopez, Kevin Rankin of Friday Night Lights and Jamey Sheridan of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The writer and executive producer is Dario Scardapane and director and executive producer is Jeffrey Reiner of Friday Night Lights.

The film is being made by NBC Universal Media Studios in association with Film 44
and is being run from Treasure Island at the end of the Bay Bridge.

Filming around the city will last for four weeks. Not only is it a fillip to see the city once more being used as a film backdrop but the pilot is expected to generate about $7 million.

'This production is a great opportunity to create several hundred jobs and stimulate the local economy with as much as $7 million in revenue,' said Mayor Newsom.

'It demonstrates that despite the economic downturn, San Francisco continues to stand out as a beautiful and welcoming city, and we are extremely pleased that NBC has chosen San Francisco as the location for its new show.'

Revenue is expected in the form of payments to local crew, taxes, city services and patronage of businesses.

If full production goes ahead, it will provide about 340 jobs.

'Getting the pilot for a high profile series to film in San Francisco is a great start. Next, we are anxious to have the production base here for the run of the show,' said Stefanie Coyote, Executive Director, San Francisco Film Commission.

'Not only does this represent major dollars and jobs for the city through production expenditures, but also it is proven that TV series stimulate tourism, revenues the city depends on annually.'

Equally pleased with the opportunity to film here is Jerry DiCanio, Executive Vice President, Production Operations, Universal Media Studios and NBC Universal Television Distribution.

'San Francisco is the perfect setting for this exciting project to film its pilot. We're thankful for the tremendous help that's been extended to us by the Mayor and film office, and we can't wait to turn Trauma into our next hit show for NBC,' he is quoted as saying.

Previous TV series filmed here include Streets of San Francisco and Midnight Caller, and the last being Nash Bridges in 2000.

***The Mayor's press relaese can be seen: http://www.sfgov.org/site/mayor_index.asp?id=99991

pics show: a waiting crowd and the California Highway Patrol on King Street just before Caltrain; filming on the expressway with a camera van rolling ready for action

Traffic restrictions are as follows:


closure of the King Street off-ramp at Sixth Street in San Francisco on
Saturday, March 28 at 5:00 AM through Sunday, March 29 until 10 p.m. and on
Monday, March 30, Tuesday March 31st and Wednesday, April 1 from 10 AM - 9
PM each day leaving the exit ramp available after 9 PM - 10 AM to
accommodate the weekday commute hours. Northbound traffic will be diverted
onto the Sixth Street exit with detours set up to Embarcadero.

March 29th from 1 PM - 4 PM. Southbound traffic will be detoured from King

Friday, March 27, 2009

Albino Alligator back in California Academy of Sciences

Claude, the rare albino alligator, is back in his swamp at the California Academy of Sciences after being in sick-bay since January - minus both a 'pinky' toe and companion, Bonnie, but sporting new skills under his scales!

Claude disappeared from the public view after Bonnie, a dark-coloured alligator who shares the swamp with him, bit him and caused infection to set in in his foot. Despite being dosed on antibiotics, the infection developed and the small toe on the end of his foot - the 'pinky' - was amputated.

But this week, having made a full recovery, he is not only back but can hold up his mighty head as 'the alligator who knows his name!'

Call out 'Claude' and he will respond, especially as he knows some tasty treat will be waiting for him.

As an albino, Claude's eyesight is limited which was the cause of the problem.

'He is prone to erratic movements,' said Andrew Ng, Communications

Specialist. In the throes of such a movement, he startled Bonnie.

'Bonnie, naturally, bit him,' he said.

Soon after, staff noticed a swelling on Claude's right, front foot and so on January 14 he was taken away to be nursed in sick-bay in the basement of the academy. Amputation followed, but after surgery he healed quickly, said Andrew.

Staff then turned their attention for the next few weeks to helping Claude, who is about 14-years-old, develop navigational skills both for his safety and their benefit.

'They have taught him to respond to when his own name is called. When he does respond, they give him a treat - something to eat,' said Andrew.

The purpose of this teaching is both to help him avoid any further clashes with the feisty 'no-one messes with me!' Bonnie, and to help staff move Claude into a corner when they want to clean his tank, for example.

Claude returned to his swamp on Wednesday after a ten-week absence, but on his lonesome. He has swapped places with Bonnie who has temporarily been put in the basement. This leaves him to sprawl in peace on his favourite spot, the heated basking rock.

'Bonnie has been taken out so he can reacquaint himself with the swamp without distractions from her. I imagine she will be back in four to six weeks,' said Andrew.

During his absence, though, some of Claude's many fans - 'Hoping for a quick recovery for the very handsome Claude. He is sorely missed!' said Vince - have been commenting on a news spot for Claude on the academy's website - http://www.calacademy.org/flyonthewall/?p=145

'So why is there only one heated rock for two gators? Why can’t they each have a rock so they don’t have to fight over them, and avoid future injuries?' asked AManess.

Whilst Kim asked, 'I noticed Bonnie hasn’t taken Claude’s usual spot on the rock. Do you think this is a territorial thing, or does Bonnie not have the same love for heated spot?'

Staff member Helen answered:

'Like all albino alligators, Claude has relatively poor eyesight. Therefore he prefers to spend most of his time on the Swamp exhibit’s heated rock, where he won’t bump into anything. Bonnie, however, has excellent eyesight, so she is happy to spend more time in the water.'

Claude's social skills with Bonnie were certainly not of the best when he first arrived at the academy from Florida, a point Helen also commented on.

'Before coming to the Academy, Claude had never lived with other alligators, so his social skills are still developing. In the long run, Claude’s experience in the exhibit will be much more enriching and stimulating if he shares the space with other animals - including other members of his species,' wrote Helen.

At the opening weekend last July, Peter, the docent, put it more bluntly:

'He tends to chuck her off the rock...so they're not an item!' - see previous blog: http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=8592174938996932415&postID=5828075324985522169

But while their relationship might not be perfect, things have greatly improved. 'I have watched them many times both sharing the rock, cuddling you might say!' said Andrew.

So are they an item?

'We haven't seen them getting amorous,' he replied tactfully. In the beginning, Andrew recalled, he did not see them sharing the rock but now, he said, they rest their heads on each others backs.

So even alligators have a heart?!

'They definitely have hearts!' said Andrew.

'When Bonnie comes back in four to six weeks we'll see how they interact. Hopefully all will go well.'

Thousands of visitors had already poured into the academy that morning. Among those excitedly craning their heads over the swamp were Jack, who has just celebrated his fifth birthday, and his grandmother, Susan, who are from the Bay Area.

Susan, as a member of the academy, had brought her grandchildren to the preview event last summer and Jack had remembered the alligators and wanted to see them again - 'he has a memory like an elephant,' she said, appropriate to where we were standing!

So what did Jack think of Claude today?

'I think he's very ferocious. And I see the turtles,' he added, looking at the alligator snapping turtles swimming around the swamp.

'I don't think Claude would eat the turtles because they would hurt his teeth,' he said.

But Susan and Jack had encountered gargantuan problems in getting to the academy. They had made their first attempt the previous day but after driving around in vain for an hour-and-a-half to find a parking space near enough for Jack to walk to the academy, they had had to return home.

'So that's why today we said we would be here early, but even by 10.15 - 10.20, there were no more than a dozen spaces left,' Susan said of the carpark.

Their difficulties were probably compounded, Susan acknowledged, by the weather and the fact that it is the school Spring Break. Temperatures in San Francisco have been in the 70s this week without any of the familiar fog, and with the academy being in the Golden Gate Park it is an attractive venue in school holidays.

Reading visitor comments on the academy website, however, these difficulties are far from uncommon. The popularity of the academy is its most frequent criticism and the advice is not only to get there early, but make sure you pick up free tickets to the planetarium and 3D Bugs shows as soon as you get there because spaces are limited.

You can read many reviews on Yelp.com but one of the most helpful is from Jenny H of San Francisco who posted last week:

'Finally!! I was able to get into the California Academy of Science!! Yeah for me!!

This place has been super crowded every weekend since it opened. I've gone here twice on a Saturday morning and was unable to make it in. Being this is the third time, I had a game plan set up...

1. Buy tickets online in advance - this will save you some time since there is a line to buy tickets then a separate line to get in.
2. Get there bright and early to line up! We got there at 8:30 AM and waited an hour before they opened the doors
3. Go get your planetarium and 3D movie tickets first. They run out fast so be sure to make that your first stop! '