The Devil's Teeth

Devil's Teeth ecology Farallon Islands Farallones fauna flora history Inspiration local Nature ocean preservation Rebecca Solnit Robert Talbot San Francisco Susan Casey sustainable

Just 30 miles outside the Golden Gate, many San Franciscans don't even realize they are there. I had never heard of them until my landlady's son made mention of them. He told us that on clear days they were visible from our house on the hill, our castle in the sky, here in the Excelsior district. But as it was August and we were in the midst of full-on foggy season, I had to wait to catch a glimpse...

From the first time I spied them, they totally captured my imagination. I could easily and readily see myself living out my lifelong Island of the Blue Dolphins fantasies in some such magic place. They are the Farallon Islands and their history is rich and fascinating. From the Spanish word farallón meaning "pillar" or "sea cliff", the Farallones, today, exist as National Wildlife Refuge. The islands were once responsible for San Francisco's growth as fur trappers and eggers ventured to the Devil's Teeth (as the Farallones have been sweetly nicknamed) to reap nature's rewards, meanwhile throwing many seal and bird species' futures in jeopardy. Now closed to the public (and rightfully so; the island's native species have been pillaged and plundered over the centuries), the closest we can get is a ride on whale watching tour out of Sausalito. So close, yet so out of reach! Their mystery lives on.

Even more disturbing than overhunting and poaching is mention in both Wikipedia's Farallon Islands article and Rebecca Solnit's Infinite City's Poison/Palate chapter and map that the area surrounding the Farallones was at one time home to nuclear waste disposal sites!

We can paint a better picture of what these islands are and how vital the Farallones' ecological health is by watching documentaries (such as this one by Robert Talbot, marine photographer/cinematographer & preservationist; HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!) and reading books (such as this one by Susan Casey, writer/researcher & great white enthusiast). While you stop to ponder the Farallon Islands, I leave you with these images from the Farallones' past and present: 

Farallon Islands in the mist

Rainbow over the islets with the North Farallones in the distance

"Eggers" took nearly a million eggs a year in the early years of San Francisco from the bird-covered Farallones Islands 27 miles west of the Golden Gate. A war broke out in 1863 between factions who desired sole access to the eggs, resulting in two casualties. But these weren't regular old chicken eggs; these were the nasty eggs of seagulls and murres. Yum.


Oct. 7: San Francisco State College coed Myra Thompson failed in her attempt to become the first person to swim from the Farallon Islands to San Francisco. She was pulled out of the water only 2 miles short of her goal. She had swum through the treacherous waters for 241/2 miles before she had to give up, exhausted. The 22-year-old had been in the frigid water 18 hours. Her handlers in the escorting boat reported that she had swum strongly until within sight of the lights and bonfires at the foot of Taraval Street on Ocean Beach but then became exhausted and incoherent and was forcibly removed from the water.

Read more:

Meadowsweet Dairy, "For The Birds", concrete rubble over stainless steel blind with artificial bird nesting boxes, SE Farallon Island, CA, 2000.

Bedlam Boy, an elephant seal, moves up the terrace toward the house.

Fur seal pup on the Farallon Islands

Smiling great white

Photo by Jenny Erbes, courtesy PRBO Conservation Science.


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