Candid Camera: Rare Glimpse of Off-Limits Seabird Colony

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A new web cam is giving birding enthusiasts a rare peek at the isolated Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world’s most valuable seabird colonies. Located 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, the islands are home to approximately 350,000 seabirds of 13 species, five species of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), visiting land birds, and an endemic salamander; great white sharks and gray, blue and humpback whales live in the surrounding waters. And the live streaming web cam captures all this and more.

They may be visible from San Francisco Bay on a clear day, but the Farallon Refuge islands are off limits to the public. Over hunting of elephant seals and fur seals nearly wiped out the local population and eggs of the Common Murre were collected so intensely during the Gold Rush that the bird’s population went from 1 million to just a few thousand by 1900. So when the first of the islands were set aside as a national refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, the management strategy was to leave the wildlife alone to recover through natural processes. No stocking or population interference; a system that has proved wildly successful for the Farallon ecosystem.

Photo Courtesy of USFWS

The web cam is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Academy of Sciences and PRBO Conservation Science. The camera is solar-powered and perched on a lighthouse, which has been there since 1853, on Southeast Farallon Island. Website visitors can see colonies of cormorants, common murres, sea lions and seals in their natural habitat and the information gathered from the 24-hour surveillance will be added to nearly 40 years of data on the island’s wildlife and used by scientists to guide conservation decisions. There is also a camera that offers you panoramic views from the highest point on the islands.

The web cam is definitely worth checking every so often even just to see what natural world is up to when we’re not around.

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