The United States Congress designated the Farallon Wilderness (map
) in 1974 and it now has a total of 141 acres
All of this wilderness is located in California
and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some of these "little pointed islets in the sea," as they were once fittingly described, were established as the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge in 1909, but the Southeast Farallons were not added until 1969. Southeast Farallon is a main island of about 70 acres (including the only major flat spot on the refuge) and numerous small rocks. Two miles northwest lies Middle Farallon, a single rock 50 yards in diameter. The North Farallons sit four miles farther north, two clusters of precipitous islets and rocks pierced by strong winds and dense fog.
Humans have had devastating and far-reaching effects here--everything from an excessive amount of seabird egg collecting in the 1850s to recent oil spills. The area has been recovering, and fur seals and approximately 400 elephant seals have returned to the Farallons. Estimates place the breeding seabird population at 250,000 including cormorants, murres, gulls, auklets, storm petrels, and puffins. The Refuge supports half the world's population of ashy storm petrels (a rare seabird), and the largest colony of western gulls anywhere. Boats that ply the surrounding waters regularly pass near porpoises and sharks, including the great white, as well as gray, humpback, and blue whales in season.
All the islands have received the Wilderness designation except Southeast Farallon, where a lighthouse still warns ships away from its rocky shores. The lighthouse was automated and equipped with solar power in 1994. The Farallons are the smallest California Wilderness, and because of their delicate ecological structure, they remain off-limits to most visitors.