Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Saturday, November 27th 1993. The Farallon journal (our island diary) lists "Black Brant: 1". One Black Brant seen on the island that day. Unbeknownst to the biologists, with this simple entry they recorded the starting of a Farallon era, the era of Molly.

Who is Molly ?

At first glance Molly appears to be a common specimen of the species Branta bernicla nigricans (Brant goose or Black Brant). A species that is described as “small and dark with bright white around tail, about 25 inches in length, weighing about 3 pounds. An almost exclusively coastal goose, found in flocks on shallow bays and marshes, feeding on eelgrass.”

But Molly is more than your average Brant. As time went on, it became apparent that this Brant was not just some flyby migrant, she was here to stay! Not only does she not seem to care about the company of her own kind (during migrations many Brant stop on the island for a day or so), she apparently prefers the company of Western Gulls. Gulls are not very fond of other birds tresspassing on their territories and any other bird is chased away. But Molly (or “La Molly” as some Farallon biologists call her) taught them that she is no pushover, coming at them with her head low and her neck stretched out, hissing. The gulls never stood a chance.

So now, the gulls accept Molly as one of them, nothing to be surprised about and just the way it has always has been. She is sometimes seen foraging on algae in the intertidal, but mostly she stays among the gulls, nibbling at Farallon weed or spurry. Everyday between fall and early summer Molly can be seen at her preferred hangouts, by the old foghorn system or on the Marine Terrace next to Sandflat. We will know she has gone completely gull when she starts scavenging on the dead elephant seal pups.

Several years back Molly seems to have had an accident of some kind while she was away, because she came back sporting a little limp that has persisted to this day. Then, 2 years ago Molly was believed dead because she was not seen for several months. There was even a “Molly Memorial” picture posted in the living room. Then, like nothing had happened, she was seen again waddling along with the other gulls – and our 10 year anniversary party was saved!

So now, for over 12 years, Molly has made every day out here more special, seeing her makes our day. Like overprotective parents not seeing the Farallon mascot in 24 hours makes us nervous. Her long coexistence with the gulls is a model to us all on sharing this special, fragile habitat with the seabirds, seals, and sea lions that call the Farallones home.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hot Winter Days- Seals hit the beaches

While we biologists have been enjoying the beautiful, sunny, warm (mid 60's) weather this week, the seals have not. Elephant seals are built for swimming in 40-degree water, not sun bathing on the beach. The calm, sunny, warm conditions don't just make the seals uncomfortable, it can kill them from overheating.
In the afternoon heat, the seals move to any source of water or shade. They splash water or sand or rocks over their backs to cool themselves. Some of the weaners on the Marine Terrace have been tossing Farallon weed, the most abundant vegetation on the island, onto their backs.

A few cows have found small puddles or tide pools of their own, but most try to cram into a few overcrowded spots with all the others. This results in chaos as the seals crowd into the puddle on Sand Flat (above, on a slightly cooler day, not quite as crowded as it has been this week) and down by the water's edge at Log Channel Beach (below). On these hot days, all the cows are grouchy and many fights erupt.
Unfortunately this chaos is bad news for the pups. Several pups have managed to get themselves stuck in Log Channel, requiring a long struggle to crawl back up. Others have fallen off ledges into the water below- a pretty terrifying first swimming lesson! A few have even been crushed or drowned as bigger seals pile on top of them while trying to get to the cooling water.

The hot weather has also resulted in a lot of new weaners this week. Many of the cows on Marine Terrace had been pups that were quite fat and able to be on their own. The first hot day of the week, these moms headed out to enjoy the cool waters at sea and to find their first meal in over a month. Now the Terrace is home to clusters of weaners who have stopped searching for mom and begun getting to know each other.