Although Southeast Farallon Island is almost 50 kilometers off the west coast of San Francisco, California, USA, sometimes it feels like it is hundreds of kilometers away from civilization. The towering skyscrapers are just dots on the horizon – and that’s on a rare clear day. Instead of a bustling metropolis of people, this chunk of granite that juts sharply out of the ocean is crammed with hundreds of thousands of seabirds and an abundance of seals and sea lions. A cacophony of shrieks, grunts and other calls resonate throughout the island around the clock. High winds blow from the northwest, causing waves to break heavily on jagged rocks. It’s one of the wildest places imaginable, and it’s just in San Francisco’s back yard.
Every day since the 1960’s, biologists from Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly Point Reyes Bird Observatory), in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have lived on the island, studying its wildlife. This has given the organization something rarely seen in ecology: long term data sets of a variety of species. This has allowed them to document the changes in population numbers and species composition as ocean conditions change over the years, answering many questions about how environmental changes affect wildlife.
The Farallones are home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the USA outside of Alaska and Hawaii. A quarter of California’s breeding seabirds, 300,000 birds of 13 species, are arriving on the island now.
For more information on the studies conducted by Point Blue, check out their Farallon National Wildlife Refuge website.
image: Jan Roletto, public domain