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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
FARALLON NWR: Web Cam Provides Real-Time Access to Refuge Known as "California's Galapagos"
Region 8, July 10, 2009
A rainbow and seabirds over Farallon NWR. (photo: Zach Coffman, USFWS)
A rainbow and seabirds over Farallon NWR. (photo: Zach Coffman, USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

An innovative partnership of government agencies and California non-profits is providing the public unprecedented access to one of the oldest and most remote wildlife sanctuaries in the nation, the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge.  A first-ever live web cam was activated in June  that beams live pictures of bird and ocean activity to a worldwide audience from the remote island refuge, located in the Pacific Ocean 27 miles west of San Francisco.

The webcam is the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Academy of Sciences and PRBO Conservation Science.  The camera, hosted on the California Academy of Science website provides real-time access to the 100-year old refuge, which hosts the largest seabird colony in the continental United States.

The solar-powered camera is perched atop a lighthouse on top of Southeast Farallon Island, one of four island groups that make up the Farallon NWR. The webcam provides clear views of the seabirds, seals, and possibly even sharks that inhabit the rocky islands and surrounding waters.  The live webcam feed is accompanied by animal identification guides, Farallones history, and research and conservation information.

The Farallon National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt “…as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.”  The 211-acre refuge is managed as part of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex and consists of four island groups- Noonday Rock, North Farallon, Middle Farallon and South Farallon.  Approximately 350,000 seabirds of 13 species breed, and thousands of five species of seals and sea lions breed or haul out the islands. Gray whales, blue whales, and humpback whales migrate and feed off the islands every year. The area is also an important feeding ground for great white sharks.

“We’re proud to have this outstanding partnership and pleased to provide virtual access of these beautiful and amazing islands to the public,” says Gerry McChesney, Acting Refuge Manager. “This way anyone can appreciate what it’s like to be on this very sensitive wildlife refuge.”

The webcam is an Axis 233D network dome camera with half hi-definition resolution. It beams image data via a microwave link between Southeast Farallon Island and San Francisco's Twin Peaks. The pan, tilt, and zoom features of the camera provide 360-degree views of the islands.  The camera automatically scans the islands when not being controlled remotely by research staff. Network infrastructure for the webcam was provided by the City and County of San Francisco's Department of Technology.

"Since the islands are not accessible to the general public, the webcam will be a valuable tool not only for scientists, but for casual observers as well," says Dr. Jack Dumbacher, curator of ornithology & mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences and lead scientist on the project. "The wildlife observations that we glean from this webcam will assist with ongoing research, guide conservation decisions, and hopefully inspire citizens to care about this valuable resource right in San Francisco's backyard."

Over 40 years of data on Farallon Islands' wildlife have been collected by PRBO Conservation Science in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The findings of these long-term studies have assisted with the establishment of the adjacent Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, contributed to state laws that protect white sharks and restrict use of commercial gill nets, and provided a greater understanding of marine ecosystem conservation.

"The Farallon Islands are California's Galapagos - truly a jewel of the San Francisco Bay Area that supports an amazing abundance of seabirds, seals, sea lions and sharks," says Ellie M. Cohen, President and CEO of PRBO Conservation Science. "We are thrilled to bring PRBO's 24/7 research and stewardship on this rocky laboratory to the public through this new website."

Click here to view the webcam

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov