Top Ten California Wildlife Moments 2012

California is home to a remarkable array of wildlife, from the grey whales swimming in its coastal waters, to the sandhill cranes soaring over the Central Valley, to the bighorn sheep roaming its mountains and deserts. As a result, the Golden State never lacks for fascinating wildlife stories. Presented below are my favorite good news wildlife moments from 2012. I’ll look forward to celebrating more wildlife success stories in 2013!

1. A wolf returns to California after a 90-year absence: OR7 or “Journey” celebrated his first anniversary of roaming California this December. Amaroq Weiss of the California Wolf Center remarked, “His arrival in California restores a native species to our state, itself a remarkable event. His continued presence for an entire year, roaming landscapes his ancestors once called home, indicates we still have good wolf habitat here.” OR7 is so popular that he made Time Magazine and the spike in traffic from people wanting news on his status caused the California Department of Fish and Game’s website to temporarily crash.

2. The lion king of Griffith Park: A mountain lion took up residence in Griffith Park, located in the middle of Los Angeles. This intrepid cat had to cross not only developed areas in the second most populated city in the nation, but he also made it safely across the worst highway in the country—the 405. Despite living in a park that 10 million people visit annually, the citizens of LA seem to be taking his residence in stride. As Jeff Sikich, the National Park Service biologist researching P-22 recently commented in an article in the Los Angeles Times:  “I think there’s a greater risk from hopping in your car and driving on the 101 … than getting attacked by a lion.” P22 even has his own twitter account!

P22-The Lion King of Griffith Park. Photo courtesy the Griffith Park Connectivity Study.

3. Marine mammals off the central coast: Whales and other marine mammals were sighted in abundance this summer off the Central Coast of California-specifically at Avila, Pismo and Seal Beaches. Photos and videos of humpback whales surfacing and surprising boaters and kayakers went viral, and thousands flocked to the area to catch a close-up glimpse of these animals. Watch this video that went viral on YouTube:


4. Rare island scrub-jay rebounding: A study led by the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center found that the Island Scrub-Jay, found only on Santa Cruz Island and one of the rarest songbirds in the United States, may be recovering due to conservation measures.

5. Baby bobcat rescued from fire: Fire crews rescued an adorable baby bobcat, nicknamed Chips, from a fire in Plumas National Forest this summer. Despite mistaken reports that Chips is “too nice for a bobcat,” Nan from Sierra Wildlife Rescue says Chips and her two companions are actually “very wild, as they should be—hissing, spitting, clawing, and averse to humans” and will be released back to nature in the spring.

Chips, the baby bobcat rescued by firefighters this past summer, in a recent photo by Nan at Sierra Wildlife Rescue.
6. Lucky lobster: Mike Warrick and his friends raised $230 to purchase an 80-year old lobster and rescue him from the dinner table. Working with the California Department of Fish and Game, they released him back into the ocean and formed a new group, Big Bug Rescue, to educate fisherman about the need to increase the older and larger lobster population along the California coast, which is vital to conservation efforts for the animal. Warrick, himself a lobster fisherman,  recently told the Orange County Register,  “We want to raise awareness of how important it is to release large lobsters.”

7. A shark at a golf course: This fall staff at the San Juan Hills Golf Club witnessed a live leopard shark fall onto the green near the 12th tee, probably dropped by a raptor. Director of Club Operations Melissa McCormack told the Capistrano Dispatch. “Honestly, this is the weirdest thing that’s happened here.” Employees drove the injured but still living shark the five miles to the ocean and watched as he swam away.

The leopard shark at San Juan Hills Golf Club. Photo courtesy Melissa McCormack
8. “Blonde bomber” sea lion returns to ocean: A piece of plastic trash threatened to strangle this five year-old sea lion, but rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center captured him at Pier 39 in San Francisco and removed the injurious packing strap. A couple of weeks later a crowd of people excitedly watched as the Blonde Bomber waddled back to the ocean when he was released, happy and healthy, on Rodeo Beach.

Blonde bomber being released on Rodeo Beach. Photo by Ingrid Overgard – The Marine Mammal Center.
9. Great grey owls in Yosemite go digital: To help minimize the impacts of research on a rare and endangered great grey owl population, scientists used digital audio recorders and used voice recognition software to track the birds. Joe Medley, a researcher and PhD candidate at UC Davis who works on the project designed an algorithm to more rapidly process data from recordings that would have instead taken 7 years of listening. “It’s pretty cool that we can use this technology as a supplement to traditional monitoring techniques. You don’t need to go out at night, and it’s really cost effective,” observed Medley.

Great Gray Owl in Yosemite. Photo Joe Medley
10. Mountain yellow-legged frogs get help: The once abundant mountain yellow-legged frog is on the verge of extinction and on February 2, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant this frog protection under the California Endangered Species Act. But as the LA Times reports,  one population of frogs in the San Gabriel Mountains is making a comeback partly due to the efforts of USGS researchers to save the amphibian—and their findings may provide clues on how other populations may combat the deadly chytrid fungus. The National Wildlife Federation, Save the Frogs! and Yosemite National Park also teamed up to host Save the Frogs Day in Yosemitein April of 2012 to highlight the plight of the  mountain yellow-legged frog in the Sierra.

Mountain yellow-legged frog, photo courtesy National Park Service
It was difficult to stop at ten, so here is a bonus story and a new NWF campaign.
11. Return of the Porpoise to San Francisco Bay: Harbor porpoises have returned to San Francisco Bay after an over 65-year absence. National Wildlife Federation and Golden Gate Cetacean Research have joined forces to celebrate the return of the porpoises to San Francisco Bay– and to ensure their continued residence. Watch our new video below:



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Published: December 31, 2012