Farallon Islands: Wildlife, Visiting, Statistics

Also known as the “Devil’s Teeth Islands”, the Farallon Islands are located off the coast of San Francisco and are home to treacherous shoals and a diverse range of birds, marine life, flora, and fauna.

What are the Farallon Islands?

The Farallon Islands are a group of islands spanning over 200 acres in size. The Native Americans who lived in the San Francisco area referred to them as the “Islands of the Dead” while mariners knew them as “Devil’s Teeth”. These names are in reference to the jagged structure of the rocks, as well as the treacherous underwater shoals that surround them.

Sir Francis Drake is one of the first Europeans believed to have landed on the islands. He referred to them as the Islands of Saint James, as he arrived on the feast day of Saint James and took meat and eggs from the islands.

The current name comes from the Spanish word for “sea cliff” and was first used several decades after Drake’s arrival.

The waters that surround the Farallon Islands are protected as part of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which spans an area of nearly 3,200 square miles and was designated back in 1981.

The South Farallon Islands cover the largest area of the Farallon Islands followed by the North Farallon Islands and the Middle Farallon Islands.

Can You Go to the Farallon Islands?

The Farallon Islands are owned by the City of San Francisco. However, the public is forbidden from visiting. One of the reasons it has thrived as a national wildlife refuge is the lack of human interference, although there are researchers living on the islands.

The researchers are from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and Point Blue Conservation Science. They live on the Southeast Farallon Island.

If you want to see more of the Farallon Islands, there are boat tours that will take you out there. Guests usually report seeing lots of humpback whales, gannets, puffins, and other marine mammals, fish, and birdlife. It makes for a unique experience and is worth adding to your itinerary the next time you’re in San Francisco.

How Deep is the Water at the Farallon Islands?

The ocean depth around the Farallon Islands is approximately 6,000 feet.

What Animals and Organisms Live on the Farallon Islands?

There are huge seabird colonies on the Farallon Islands, spanning more than 250,000 birds in total. These include western gulls, double-crested cormorants, and tufted puffins.

The Farallon Islands are also home species such as:

  • Northern elephant seal
  • California sea lion
  • Northern fur seal
  • Steller’s sea lion
  • Grey whales
  • Great white sharks
  • Blue whales
  • Humpback whales

The Farallon Islands are also said to be home to tens of thousands of Eurasian house mice, an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem.

How Far Off the Coast is the Farallon Islands?

The Farallon Islands are around 30 miles from the Golden Gate and 20 miles from Point Reyes.

Summary: The Farallon Islands

The Farallon Islands are incredibly important for the local wildlife populations and for the researchers that study them. These treacherous waters may be out of bounds for tourists, but sea lions, northern fur seals, gray whales, and humpback whales thrive here, providing them with a safe haven that’s just a couple of dozen miles away from one of the biggest and busiest cities in the western United States.

If you want to learn more about the islands, book a boat tour or read some of the fascinating books and essays written on the subject, including the 2006 book The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey.