farallon island

“A front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle told the story of a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. The whale also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth.


A fisherman spotted the whale just east of the Farallon Islands (beyond the Golden Gate bridge) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived. They determined that the whale was so bad off that the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. The team worked for hours, carefully slashing through the labyrinth of lines with curved knives. Eventually, they freed her.

The divers say that once the female humpback was free to move, she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. The whale then came back to each diver, one at a time, and gave each a nudge, pushing her rescuers gently around as she was thanking them. Some divers said it was the most beautiful experience of their lives.

The diver who cut the rope out of the whale’s mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time. And he will never be the same.”

Great white shark versus orca   Which is the greatest ocean predator – the orca or the great white shark? A shocking encounter off the Californian coast reveals the answer. When wildlife-watchers in a boat off the Farallon Islands witnessed an orca attacking a great white shark, they were astonished by how easily the fish was overpowered. However, much of the action took place out of sight, under water. Scientists have pieced together the evidence to construct the likely sequence of events that led to the shark’s apparently timid demise. From the eyewitness accounts, it was clear that the orca didn’t bump into the great white by chance. It deliberately changed course to intercept its victim. The shark appeared unaware that it was in danger. Swimming at top speed, the orca took the shark by surprise, ramming it hard on the flank. The massive impact stunned the shark, leaving it momentarily confused and vulnerable. With the shark dazed, the orca grasped it behind the head and turned it upside- down. The shark panicked and its brain released calming serotonin that sent it into a trance. This made it far easier for the orca to drown its prey. Soon the shark was dead and the orca could start tearing it apart. CLASH OF THE TITANS: ORCA Orcinus orca SIZE: Adult male up to 9.5m; adult female up to 8.2m. WEIGHT: Male up to 5,600kg; female up to 3,600kg. TEETH: 40–52 large, conical, inward-curving teeth in upper and lower jaw. MAX SPEED: Bursts of 50kmph when in pursuit of prey. TYPICAL PREY: Mostly fish and squid; also seals, sealions and other marine mammals and seabirds. Consumes up to 200kg of food daily. MAX PREY SIZE: Several records of orcas attacking and eating grey whale calves. HUNTING TECHNIQUE: Often works in teams to corral fish or to distract prey to isolate or weaken it before delivering the killer blow. SPECIAL SKILLS: Uses echolocation – a form of sonar – to detect shoals of fish under water. DISTRIBUTION: Found in all of the world’s oceans, but most abundant in cooler waters at high latitudes. GREAT WHITE SHARK Carcharodon carcharias SIZE: 4–5.5m fully grown; occasionally over 6m. Females generally larger. WEIGHT: Usually up to 1,000kg; rarely up to 2,200kg. TEETH: 3,000 razor-sharp, triangular teeth arranged in several rows that rotate towards the front of the mouth, replacing broken ones as needed. MAX SPEED: Often reaches 40kmph. TYPICAL PREY: Mostly big fish, including tuna, rays and other sharks; also seals, sealions, dolphins, turtles and seabirds.
max prey size Sometimes attacks and kills smaller great whites HUNTING TACTICS: Solitary, ambushes prey from below with a powerful surge. SPECIAL SKILLS: Excellent sense of smell: can detect a drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Electromagnetic sense picks up the magnetic field produced by muscle activity in its prey. DISTRIBUTION: Found almost worldwide, from the subtropics to cooler, temperate seas; some populations highly migratory.   DID YOU KNOW? Great white sharks will sometimes eat whales but usually only after they’re dead. There are numerous records of sharks scavenging whale carcasses.   

A female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

This beautiful Northern Gannet has been a resident on the Farallon NWR for 3 years now. An North Atlantic species, it is the only known member of it’s kind in the Pacific. Lately, it has been trying to find a mate. This photo by Gerry McChesney shows the Northern Gannet among nesting Brandt’s Cormorants on Southeast Farallon Island, Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, CA. May 26, 2015.

Photo: Gerry McChesney/USFWS

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Ending soon! 

Kim Chambers is only the third woman and the sixth person ever to complete the Ocean’s Seven challenge — seven, globe-spanning swims that are chosen for their particularly difficult water conditions and wildlife risks. It’s an accomplishment burnished by the fact that, just seven years ago, she was told that she had a 1% chance of walking ever again. Now, the documentary Kim Swims tells the full story of Chambers improbable and inspiring path to becoming one of the “most adventurous and accomplished open water endurance swimmers in the world.”

Beginning less than a year after her last swim left her hospitalized from enduring excessive jellyfish stings, Kim Swims follows Chambers for several months while she prepares for a groundbreaking swim from the Farallon Islands to the Golden Gate Bridge. (The 30-mile stretch of water between the two is infamous for its frigid temperatures, challenging currents, and gigantic great white sharks.) It’s a swim that only four other people have ever completed, none of whom were women. 

Chamber’s story is both harrowing and sublimely hopeful, revealing the astonishing accomplishments that can be won from moments of extraordinary, seemingly insurmountable hardship. Explore the project, and more of Kim’s story, over at the project page.