In remote areas of the U.S., solar-powered webcams are helping biologists monitor the activity of endangered species, and help them preserve declining populations. Earlier this week, the first webcam to document streaming videos of endangered California condors went live in the isolated hills of Big Sur. The Ventana Wildlife Society, which installed the camera, has been releasing condors on the central Pacific Coast of California since 1997 and currently monitors a flock of over 60 endangered condors.
The Condor Cam is a pan-tilt-zoom camera, installed on a grassy ridge at 2,800 feet above the ocean, with portable solar stations that power the camera, according the wildlife society. Not only does the webcam stream live videos for biologists to analyze, the Condor Cam also allows viewers to watch the condors in the wild at http://www.ventanaws.org/condor_cam/.
"We put the camera right on top of one of the main feeding areas so we could zoom down and get identification of each individual," Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, told the San Jose Mercury News. The leading cause of death among condors is lead poisoning, resulting from the ingestion of rodent carcasses shot with lead ammunition. Biologists will therefore place stillborn domestic calves—a lead-free food source—inside the feeding area for the condors to safely consume. The release pen can also be viewed on camera, where researchers turn loose captive-born condors and periodically capture the birds to perform lead testing.
Twenty-seven miles off the coast of San Francisco, another solar-powered webcam documents the activity of sea birds, sea lions and seals on the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. The rocky Farallon Islands, commonly referred to as “California’s Galapagos” for their undisturbed wildlife, are home to the nation’s largest seabird breeding colony outside Alaska and Hawaii—accommodating roughly 350,000 seabirds of 13 different species. Aside from birds, the Farallon Islands also provide a migratory route for humpback whales, which feed off the islands alongside great white sharks.
While the wildlife refuge is closed to the public, the live streaming webcam is installed on top of a lighthouse on Southeast Farallon Island, allowing scientists to gather information and guide their conservation decisions, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The webcam can also be viewed by the public at http://www.calacademy.org/webcams/farallones/. "This way anyone can appreciate what it's like to be on this very sensitive wildlife refuge,” said acting refuge manager Gerry McChesney.
Another live streaming webcam, powered by solar and wind energy, was installed in 2008 beneath the ocean at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. This underwater camera allows teenagers from the Colorado-based nonprofit organization Teens4Oceans to observe the daily life of the endangered goliath grouper. The underwater webcam can be viewed at http://teens4oceans.org/index.php/gallery/webcams/.
"It is so important to put kids in front of the world they live in, and they will develop a love for their natural heritage," Trevor Mendelow, a science teacher at Kent Denver School, told Keys News. "It is an irrefutable fact that our marine ecosystems are in peril, but everyday people can do their part and make a huge difference to preserve nearshore habitats."