What are the Farallon Islands?
“The Farallon Islands, (signifying “column” or “ocean bluff”), are a gathering of islands and ocean stacks in the Gulf of Farallones, off San Francisco, California, the United States.” Sailors are also sometimes referred to as the Devil’s Dents Islands, in reference to the many schools of treacherous submarines nearby.
Fascinating facts about the Farallon Islands
The cluster of islands and sea stacks off San Francisco are often obscured by a dense curtain of cloud. But when the fog lifts, the Farallon Islands can be seen from the shore, their faintly jagged shapes sticking out of the sea as if painted on the western horizon in watercolors.
The four island groups total 211 acres and are just 28 miles off the coast. On the boat trips, you can get up close to their rugged shores teeming with birds and pinnipeds and surrounded by whales and sharks.
But few San Franciscans make the effort as the trips can be cold, windswept, and boisterous, and once you get to your destination you can’t walk on land as the islands are closed to the public to protect the habitat of wildlife.
And so, these islands so close, yet so distant remain a mystery, remarkable little patches of forest in plain sight of a booming metropolis.
Below we present some of the many fascinating facts and snippets of their history; maybe you will be convinced to do the trek.
The waters surrounding the islands are notoriously dangerous and in April 2012 a 38-foot yacht called the Low-Speed Chase was driven over the rocks and capsized during the annual Full Crew Farallones Race. Eight people were on board and three survived. “Even a Navy SEAL would feel panic in this situation,” Kimball Livingston, editor of Sail magazine, told the San Francisco Chronicle after the crash. “I’m surprised anyone survived.
Indians called the Farallon Islands the “Islands of the Dead” and sailors referred to them as “the devil’s teeth” because of their ragged profile and treacherous shores. But the name that was stuck was the Spanish Farallón, which means that a ledge protrudes from the sea. The name is first mentioned in the diary of Brother Antonio de la Ascencion, who sailed through the area on a ship with the 1603 expedition of the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno.
The second lighthouse on the west coast was built in 1855 in the southeast of Farallon. Four zookeepers and their families lived on the islands as they had to maintain the lighthouse 24 hours a day. Today, two of the three-bedroom homes built by the US Lighthouse Service are on the island.
A handful of researchers and scientists with Point Blue Conservation live in one of these homes in southeast Farallon and have been watching the wildlife population evolve for 50 years. “With our long-term data sets, we are able to provide the refuge with accurate trend estimates that will help the refuge manage the wildlife,” says Jim Tietz, program biologist at Point Blue, who spends much of his year in the islands. This is one of the longest-running coordinated efforts between an administration office and a not-for-profit association. The leftover islands are uninhabited.
Even if you wanted to sneak into the islands, you probably couldn’t. Researchers access the southeast of Farallón by riding a larger boat to a smaller boat that is raised to the island with a crane.
There is a smaller island to the west of the main island that can only be visited at certain times of the year with a special permit, and to get there you have to take a zip line through a channel.
The amount of birds on the islands is staggering. The Faraglioni is home to the largest seabird nesting colony in the contiguous United States and the largest colony of western gulls in the world. They support half of the world’s population of ashy petrels. More than 400 species of birds have been detected and recorded.
Birds that got lost in migration and known as tramps are common in the Farallon Islands. For example, an Arctic warbler has been spotted breeding in Alaska and in winter in Southeast Asia. “It’d be a big deal on the mainland, but it’s not a big deal on the islands because we’re getting so many,” says Gerry McChesney, manager of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge at FWS.
Today’s bird numbers may sound amazing, but they were even more impressive before the gold rush when egg hunters decimated the population. Before the Farallon Egg Company opened a business in 1849, an estimated 1 million murres were breeding. At a point in the 50 years when egg collecting was legal, that number dropped to 6,000.
There are many crazy stories from the days of egg hunting on the islands, but perhaps the most fascinating is the one about what is known as the Egg War. Rival companies attempted to uproot the Farallon Egg Company, and it came to a head in 1863 when one of the competitors gathered two dozen armed men to raid the island. The attempt failed. Two men died, four were wounded, and the Egg Company continued in business until it sold its rights to the land in the 1870s. The federal government stopped settling on the islands in 1881.
Five types of pinnipeds can be found on the islands. Northern fur seals were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century and recolonized the islands beginning in 1959. Northern fur seals were also hunted to extinction in the 19th century. In 1996, the first fur seal pup was registered at the shelter.
Sharks surround the islands from September to December to feed. They eat sea lions, but their favorite food is young elephant seals. Throughout the long term, the quantity of assaults that we are seeing has diminished," says McChesney.During the '90s and mid-2000s, they were averaging around one attack every day. Two years ago, they only saw about six attacks per season. Last year was a bit busier. We’re not exactly sure what’s going on. We are also seeing a decline in elephant seals and it could be related to that. "
Sharks of the Farallon Islands
You will find yourself supporting the seals as they compete in a race for their lives against some of the most incredible marine predators on the planet. Seeing this great natural white feeding event is an experience you will never forget.
Incredible Adventures takes you aboard the * Derek M. Baylis * to this very special place, a ship that has been carefully selected to travel comfortably with an engine to such a remote and often harsh place.
Coldwater booms produce large blooms of plankton, making this the best place for food for all types of wildlife.
Humpback and blue whales travel from southern Mexico and Costa Rica to enjoy the abundance of anchovies and krill. Leatherback turtles travel from Indonesia to eat the jellyfish and seabirds called shearwaters to come from Australia to fatten the fish.
The safe house and withdrawal of the splendid Farallon Islands make these outcrops the greatest settlement of seabirds in the coterminous United States. Five different types of seals and sea lions also take refuge there, which in turn are food for the most exciting and perfect predator in the ocean…. the Great White Shark.
Tour of the Farallón Islands
It is a true oceanic Eden, where seemingly inhospitable rocky outcrops and the sea around them teem with marine life. Gray, humpback, and blue whales, as well as orcas, visit in different seasons, while pods of porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, and seals roam throughout the year.
More everyday routine experiences close by the emotional Farallon Islands, almost fruitless bumps that emerge from the ocean around 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sea lions and seals are found here, and the skies are filled with countless seabirds. The refuge protects the largest seabird colony in the contiguous United States, with nesting species such as tufted puffins, rhinos, and chick guillemots.
This aquatic world of nature is remote, but not inaccessible. From May to November, entire day guided travels offered by the Oceanic Society permit you to go to the Farallon Islands, with experienced naturalists adding shading critique and causing you to spot creatures. Scheduled trips depart from the San Francisco waterfront and further north in the city of Sausalito in Marin County.
With all that life under the waves, it’s no wonder the ocean here is also home to great white sharks. Looking for the memory of your life? Great White Adventures offers day trips from late September through November, and you don’t have to be a certified diver to be in the safety of a specially designed underwater shark cage and possibly see white sharks in their underwater kingdom. Sleek, nonchalant, and the thickness of a wine barrel as they glide, these incomparable hunters may give you the creeps, but you can’t deny their incredible grace and physical power.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Q. How far is the Farallon Islands from San Francisco?
A. Found 30 miles outside of the Golden Gate and 20 miles south of Point Reyes, the islands are obvious from the terrain on a sunny morning.
Q. Can you visit the Farallon Islands?
A. Yes you can visit the Farallon Islands and enjoy the trip. You can see the beauty of Farallon Island with your eyes. It’s a great scene. Then once you visit the Farallon Islands you get addicted to it and want to visit them again and again.