Magazine article Sunset

30 Miles out to the Farallones ... Alive with Birds, Seals, Sea Lions

Magazine article Sunset

30 Miles out to the Farallones ... Alive with Birds, Seals, Sea Lions

Article excerpt

From a distance, your first glimpse of Southeast Farallon Island--a 30-mile boat trip west of San Francisco--is of a deserted, ominous outcropping of rock. Then, as the vessel approaches, you can hear the island come alive.

The raucous calls of thousands of sea birds drift through the misty air and intermingle with the odors of marine life. As the boat moves into a cove and the engine is cut, passengers notice that the beach is covered with seals and sea lions. And the cliffs are dotted with gulls, cormorants, and murres.

Since 1969, the Farallones and surrounding waters have been part of the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This month through October, you can join a guided boat tour of the area (landing is not permitted). Whale or dolphin sightings often highlight the trips. You can also attend evening lectures on such topics as the refuge's history, marine mammals, sea birds, and weather patterns.

Historically, the Farallones suffered heavily from human intrusion. In the early 1800s, seals were exploited for furs; in 1850, egg companies started removing millions of murre eggs to sell in San Francisco markets.

Thanks to improved management and protection this century, the islands are now a haven to more than a quarter-million nesting birds each summer, and are a resting area and breeding ground for California and Steller sea lions as well as elephant and harbor seals. Though last season's El Nino phenomenon adversely affected the breeding rate of Farallon sea birds, all indications are that weather and breeding patterns are back to normal this year. Boat trips and lectures

Reservations for boat trips and lectures are essential. Boats (all Coast Guard certified) hold 40 to 60 passengers. Tour participants should wear layered clothing appropriate for cold, wet weather.

Bring a lunch (including beverages), sunglasses, sunscreen, and binoculars. The 3-hour passage between the coast and the islands is often rough; your pharmacist or doctor can supply seasickness remedies. Participants must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure time for check-in and orientation. Trips are occasionally postponed because of rough weather; call the morning of your departure to reconfirm trip plans. Naturalists accompany each trip and will guide you in the sighting and identification of bird and marine life of the area. …

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