Sea Lion Caves is a privately owned animal sanctuary near Florence, Oregon, which was opened to the public in 1932. It has been a breeding ground for sea lions for generations. Rather than keeping the animals in captivity, the operators of the cave simply protect the area for animals to come and go as they choose. Since its early years, it has served as a tourist attraction. Visitors can make their way down from the highway above and take a look at the animals inside the cave.
The property containing the caves was purchased in 1927 by R.E. Clanton from William Cox. Clanton's intention was to start a business. J.G. Houghton and J.E. Jacobson later joined, and the three risked everything they had to build a safe access route from the highway above down to the caves. In 1961, an elevator costing $180,000 was added.
Today, the caves turn a profit, getting its money from (perhaps among other sources) admission fees and its gift shop. It was even commended by the governor of Oregon for its financial success. By 1981 it had a gross income of 1 million and attracted 200,000 visitors annually.
The Sea Lion Caves contain 2 acres of cave floor.
It is interesting to note that there is as of 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created an exception to its rules against the killing of sea lions due to, as some have claimed, their adverse effect on fish populations.
In the early days, the caves provided sanctuary to animals arguably in spite of the government's attitude toward preservation. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act had not yet passed. Until 1950, there was even a bounty paid by the state of Oregon on sea lions. Each hunter could obtain an annual total of $10,000.
In 1977, the government of Oregon tried and failed to take control of the caves.
This being a discussion of the potential of private organizations performing land resource management without the government, a few words on government involvement in property rights management should be added.
First, it should be noted that there is dependency here on the government to assert property rights. Secondly, it should be noted that while the property containing the caves was purchased by R.E. Clanton from William Cox in 1927, Cox himself initially purchased it from the government in 1887. However, at least it can be said here that the land was sold to the owners of the sanctuary at market rates, and that the sanctuary was subsequently financially sustainable.
The above issues, of course, will apply to the vast majority of such stories.
Though R.E. Clanton had purchased the land in 1927, J.G. Houghton and J.E. Jacobson only joined the business after it was clear that US Route 101 (presumably a government project) would give potential visitors easy access to their location.
In 1972, the Nixon administration passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This act has prohibited, with few exceptions, the hunting of marine mammals.
The caves are currently part of the Oregon Marine Reserves, which includes some legal protections. (The extent of its relationship with the Sea Lion Caves is unclear)