They have been called California's Galapagos.  There are very few places on Earth where scientists can ask the kinds of questions about environmental change that Point Blue addresses on the Farallones.  Our biologists have gathered data on island wildlife in a consistent fashion throughout each season, year in and year out, since the program's inception in the late 1960s. We maintain a year-round field station for science and stewardship on Southeast Farallon Island, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—an extraordinary opportunity.

Welcome to the Farallones

Welcome to Southeast Farallon Island, where the calls of 20,000 Western Gulls and 200,000 Common Murres compete with the crash of ocean swells and the howl of northwesterly winds. Every square meter of weathered granite and guano-rich soil is occupied by a seabird, seal or sea lion. Ocean travelers passing nearby include albatross, white sharks, orca and humpback whales.

This largest island in the Farallon archipelago literally pulses with life: guillemots and oystercatchers pierce the din with their cries, auklets and cormorants bring loads of squid and anchovy back to their nests; vagrant landbirds of every color and origin drop in during migration; humongous elephant seals snort or trumpet from where they rest ashore.

A concentration of marine wildlife unmatched in the lower 48 states occurs just 30 miles outside the Golden Gate. The islands, protected from human disturbance, are a "natural laboratory" for understanding environmental change—and the site of critically important ecological research by Point Blue Conservation Science.

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In the News

Two choices in Farallon mice overpopulation 
August 16, 2013, San Francisco Chronicle
The draft environmental report on the controversial Farallon mouse eradication program gives the option of exterminating tens of thousands of mice on the island chain using one of two powerful rodenticides or doing nothing.  Read More..

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Multimedia

Los Farallones Blog: From Point Blue scientists on Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. An account of the trials and tribulations of conducting ecological fieldwork on a small, rocky island 28 miles west of San Francisco (37.7 N, 120 W).

Farallones Cam: The California Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Point Blue Conservation Science have teamed up to launch a live streaming web camera.  This camera, which sits atop the Farallon lighthouse, can be used to observe breeding bird colonies, and breeding seal and sea lion colonies. It can also be used to observe ocean conditions and the off-shore activity of birds, whales and, possibly, great white sharks.

Science on the SPOT: Life on the Farallones
Video Story by Chris Bauer for QUEST Northern California on Oct 13, 2010

The Farallon Islands – "California's Galapagos"
Video Story by Chris Bauer for QUEST Northern California on Oct 13, 2009

Journey to the Farallones, an audio report by KQED QUEST Northern California on July 27, 2009

Web Extra: Farallon Islands History Timeline
Slideshow by Dan Gillick for QUEST Northern California on Jul 25, 2009

Web Extra: Visit to the Farallon Islands – Audio Slideshow
Slideshow by Craig Miller for QUEST Northern California on Jul 24, 2009

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Seabirds

For the 300, 000 seabirds of 13 species on the island, our goals are to study the breeding biology, feeding ecology, and population dynamics of this community in relation to natural and human-induced climate change in order to advance both scientific discovery and conservation efforts.

Our long-term monitoring of Farallon Island seabirds has revealed increasing unpredictability in the marine ecosystem. For more than three decades, Point Blue documented a strong link between Cassin's Auklets and Brandt’s Cormorants’ yearly breeding success, but this has begun to unravel. In recent years these species, auklets which feed on krill and cormorants that feed on fish,  have shown opposing trends in productivity suggesting potential changes in the Farallon food web. 

With this wealth of information, we are informing direct management of actions on the islands, guiding management of surrounding waters, contributing to management actions in a wide range of species, and contributing th ecosystem-based management.

We focus our efforts on 12 of the 13 seabird species that nest on Southeast Farallon Island:

The twelve species of Farallon seabirds Point Blue studies primarily
Pigeon Guillemot Tufted Puffin Rhinoceros Auklet Cassin's Auklet
Common Murre Brandt's Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant Pelagic Cormorant
Black Oystercatcher Western Gull California Gull Ashy Storm-Petrel

 

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Pinnipeds

The Farallon Islands are host to five species of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions).  For over one-hundred years, human occupation and hunting decimated much of the wildlife on the island and Northern Elephant Seals and Northern Fur Seals were extirpated in the 1800's.  The Elephant Seal began re-colonizing the island in the late 1950's and in 1972; Point Blue witnessed the first pup born there in over a century.   More recently, in the last two decades, Northern Fur Seals have begun to return to the Farallones and their populations have grown at an extremely rapid  rate.  Point Blue continues to monitor these colonies to gain a better understanding of the population dynamics of all seals and sea lions on the Farallon Islands.

Pinniped Species Point Blue Studies on the Farallones
Northern Elephant Seal Northern Fur Seal Harbor Seal
 
California Sea Lion   Steller Sea Lion
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Landbirds

The Farallon Islands are well known for the spectacular number of wayward birds that show up seemingly every year that are unusual to California and occasionally  unusual to North America.  However, the majority of fall migrants that arrive are common West Coast birds that have been blown slightly off course and these are the focus of our studies.  Since 1967, Point Blue Conservation Science has conducted annual surveys of fall migrants.

While detailed studies from local areas can provide precise demographic data for the studied population, it tends to be limited in scope and difficult to extrapolate to other areas.  Long-term migration data can provide trend information relevant to a broader region.  Our goal is to understand fall migrant stopover ecology, migratory timing, and population trends.

Burrowing Owls
Extremely high densities of introduced house mice, which arrived on the island in the 19th century, facilitate Burrowing Owls to overwinter on the island and predate heavily on Ashy Storm petrels, a seabird species of conservation concern. Until recently, not much was known about the number of owls that visit the island, annual site fidelity, or stopover ecology.  However, little is known about the number of owls that visit the island, annual site fidelity, or stopover ecology.  Since 2007, Point Blue has been closely monitoring the Burrowing Owls on the island intensively in order to understand these aspects.  This will allow us to better inform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so they can manage this owl population more effectively and prevent the continued decline of Ashy Storm-Petrels.

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Sharks

In 1969 Point Blue biologists working on the Farallon Islands saw a large shark kill and eat a Steller's Sea Lion. At the time, they had no idea what kind of shark was involved. Today, the Farallones are recognized as one of the best places in the world to study Great White Sharks in their natural environment.

In 1987 Point Blue biologists began documenting and observing shark attacks from atop the island at the Farallon lighthouse.  The two main focus areas of Point Blue's White Shark Research at the Farallon Islands in the past included Individual Shark Identification and Shark Watch and Population Monitoring.  Currently, Point Blue is only continuing the Shark Watch and Population Monitoring Project.

Using a standardized method, biologists continue to monitor shark attacks, recording frequency and location. This provides us with information on environmental effects, population trends, and behavior patterns of prey and predator.

 

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