Creature Feature: Farallons

Claire Nasr, an MSI instructor, has taken some time to go back into the field and help with local research. Let’s see what she’s up to!

Southeast Farallon Island Research

Written and photography by Claire Nasr

farallons Claire NasrCurrently, I am on the SoutheastFarallonIsland working in conjunction with The Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The main focus during the winter season here is pinniped population dynamics. There are five species of pinniped that use the island for breeding/resting/pupping: Northern elephant seal, harbor seal, California sea lion, Steller sea lion and Northern fur seal. There are over 10,000 pinnipeds here right now; they sing me to sleep every night. Most of what I do every day is walk around the perimeter of the island many times, hike up to a light house, or sit in a blind and re-sight pinnipeds all day. A re-sight is when you find an animal that has been tagged, marked (with hair dye), or branded. So, for instance if I saw a elephant seal with a tag I would write down the following information: the location of the animal, the location of the tag inside the flipper, the behavior of animal, the status of its pup, where the animal is in relation to other animals, and many other things. Each animal ends up having a history that we can refer to and document for further study. pup Claire Nasr

We also are interested in salamanders. There is an arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris) that is endemic to the island, and we conduct bi-weekly surveys around the entire island. And of course since the program I’m working with is PRBO, we also do bird surveys every day. The coolest bird I’ve seen here has been the Northern Gannet. It’s native to the east coast, so it’s totally weird that it’s here. Some other birds include a variety of shorebirds, seabirds and land birds: willet, whimbrel, oyster catcher, black turnstone, wandering tattler, northern fulmar, common murre, glaucous winged gull, herring gull, California gull, western gull, thayers gull (so many gulls!), fox sparrow, golden crowned sparrow, white throated sparrow, white crowned sparrow, peregrine falcon, American kestrel and LOTS more! I’m really starting to get better at birding since being here – it just takes practice and a dedication to carry around a field guide as I go.

This island is truly an incredible place. I have done quite a bit of field work in the past 5 years, but this one is definitely the most amazing experience. Instead of writing a bunch of stories down, I decided to include some bullet point moments of my time here that were extra exceptional.
– Watching a female elephant seal give birth to a pup literally 4 feet in front of me
– finding a massive white shark tooth
– tagging multiple elephant seals, it’s purely incredible being that close to a wild animal
– seeing the Golden Gate on a clear day
– investigating old sea caves that you have to army crawl 60 feet through to get to the end
– going out on a zodiac and filming sea lions in the water following our small boat
– operating a crane to get onto the island (yes, I operate an actual crane!)
– watching up to 40 whales (grey, blue, minke, humpback) swim right past the island in one single day
– getting to know these amazing animals who call this epic piece of granite home

Click below for more information about projects on the Farallons

The Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks, Claire, for the amazing insight into what it’s like to be a field research intern! If you want to learn more about having a career in the marine sciences check this out:  Career Planning in Marine Science.


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