Friday, September 26, 2008

West End

I wrote this a few days ago, but the internet has been spotty.

The few days since my last post have been uneventful bird-wise, but I was able to explore a new area and interact with some of the pinnipeds. Every two weeks the head biologist (Jim) needs to count Northern Fur Seals on West End. For safety reasons, two people are required to go and since I had never been there, I got to go. West End is actually a separate island than Southeast Farallon (which is where we are), but there is only a narrow channel between the two. We don’t normally go over there because it is too disruptive to the pinnipeds (California Sea Lions, Steller’s Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, and Northern Fur Seals) over there and the channel crossing is somewhat tricky. To cross the Jordan Channel, as it’s named, you have to put on a climbing harness and clip yourself to a pulley attached to a cable that runs across the channel. Then you pull yourself over to the other side and scramble up the rocks. The harness is then sent back across for the other person.
Jim crossing the Jordan Channel

Once we are both on the other side, we have to carefully pick our way through the California Sea Lions (which are the most numerous pinniped). They are pretty skittish and move as we approach, but we don’t want to scare them into stampeding towards the water and possibly injuring themselves. The spot Jim counts from is up on a ridge overlooking a flat area where the Fur Seals like to hangout and is probably about a quarter mile from the channel. It took us about two hours to cover that ground and not cause too much disturbance. When we got to the ridge, there were several Fur Seals up there. Unlike the Sea Lions, the Fur Seals aren’t very afraid of us and tend to stand their ground.

Northern Fur Seal

After some coaxing, we were able to conduct the survey. The Northern Fur Seal was once very abundant here, but like most of the pinnipends were hunted extensively. None were seen on the islands since the early 1800s, but in the mid-1990s they started to return. Jim counted 119 on that day’s survey, 40 of which were pups. Hopefully the island’s population continues to recover.
Northern Fur Seal

Our hike back to the channel only took half an hour since most the Sea Lions had already moved out of our way. It was cool to get a different perspective on the island and see some of the Fur Seals up close.
Looking back from West End

I also saw a Gray Whale, of which I got some distant pictures. It was pretty fun to watch it swim around and come up to the surface. The other day I was doing a seabird survey and saw a Humpback Whale shoot up all the way out of the water. Humpbacks are the most common whale we see, but this was the first time I’d seen one entirely out of the water. Totally awesome.
Gray Whale

The winds are supposed to change on Sunday, so we are expecting some new birds to arrive in a few days.

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