Ten Remarkable California Wildlife Moments in 2015

As the California Director of the National Wildlife Federation, I have the best job in the world. While overseeing the organization’s conservation work in the Golden State, I continually witness instances of “wild wonder.”  From mountain lions to sea otters, from wolves to desert tortoises, here are ten remarkable wildlife moments we experienced in California in 2015.

#1. Wild otter gives birth in tide pool at Monterey Bay Aquarium. As the aquarium declared in their blog, it was the “squee heard ‘round the world!” when an otter gave birth in the tide pool outside their facility. Crowds onsite gathered to watch, but they were nothing compared to the virtual crowds in the millions who avidly followed the ridiculously cute photos and videos posted on the aquarium’s Facebook page.

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Cute overload: wild sea otter and pup resting in the Great Tide Pool at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium


#2. Wolves Return to California: Photos released in August by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife of five wolf pups and their parents frolicking in California’s Siskiyou County, not far from Mount Shasta, provided evidence that a wolf pack had formed in California—the first in the state in ninety years. “This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”

Meet the Shasta Pack–California’s first wolf pack in almost a century. Photo via California Fish & Wildlife


#3. “Jaws” Devours Seal in San Francisco Bay: Tourists visiting San Francisco’s famed attraction of Alcatraz got front row seats to the gory spectacle of a great white shark preying on a seal—and they also became witnesses to an unprecedented event. As David McGuire, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “This is the first recorded predation event I know of in the San Francisco Bay.” In the first video below, footage from a security camera from Alcatraz Cruises shows the shark breaching the water with its prey. The second video, taken by tourist Meredith Coppolo Shindler displays a view from the boat—along with the delight of a young boy watching the event: “It’s Jaws, it’s Jaws! That’s the awesomest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”




#4. Mountain lion climbs telephone pole: What caused this mighty mountain lion to scurry up a telephone pole? Screaming children. As Peter Day reported in the Daily Press: “Jose Ruiz, a resident who lives across the street from the pole, told the Daily Press that the mountain lion was startled by children coming home in a Lucerne Valley Unified School District school bus. They were yelling with excitement and the big cat scurried up the pole,” Ruiz said.  Later that same evening, the mountain lion managed to climb back down the pole and hasn’t been seen in the area since.

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Only in California: a mountain lion climbs a telephone pole to escape screaming children. Photo by Peter Day/Daily News


#5: Famous Mountain Lion Takes a Nap in a Los Angeles Home: In April, the famous mountain lion of Hollywood, P-22, was discovered napping in a crawlspace in a Los Feliz home. The resulting media circus, complete with a live feed of the cat peeking out at the cameras and helicopters buzzing the neighborhood, made headlines around the world (including an article in Time Magazine: The Mountain Lion That Was Hiding Under a Los Angeles Home Has Left). The media spectacle wasn’t out of fear, however, but because for the most part people wanted a glimpse of this famous cat, who safely snuck away after officials cleared the area.

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Click the image to view the full video (Photo: NBC4LA)


#6: Endangered Frogs Get a Helicopter Ride to Safety: In an effort to save a frog species on the brink of extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service evacuated critically endangered tadpoles from the high Sierra and transported them to Oakland Zoo and San Francisco Zoo. These tadpoles have now have successfully morphed into healthy mountain yellow-legged frogs.  “Mountain yellow-legged frogs are getting hammered by non-native trout and disease, and urgent intervention was needed to keep two populations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks from disappearing,” said Danny Boiano, Aquatic Ecologist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

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Normally used to fight wildland fires, this helicopter instead spent the day rescuing an endangered species. Photo by Jessie Bushell/San Francisco Zoo.
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A mountain yellow-legged frog peers up from an alpine pond. Photo by Isaac Chellman/NPS


#7: Bighorn Sheep Return to Yosemite’s Cathedral Range: The National Park Service, with funding from the Yosemite Conservancy, released a new herd of bighorn sheep into the park in 2015. “It has been a century since Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep disappeared from the Cathedral Range,” said Sarah Stock, a Yosemite National Park wildlife biologist who supervised the herd’s restoration, “so it is remarkable to have them back in the heart of the park’s wilderness. Not only is the animal restored to its ancestral habitat, but we are restoring our personal connection with wilderness and what it means to be in a wild place.”

NPS Biologist Sarah Stock watches as bighorn sheep are released into Yosemite’s Cathedral Range. Photo via NPS.


#8: The Marines to the Rescue of the Desert Tortoise:  The Twentynine Palms Marine Base partnered with UCLA to create the Desert Tortoise Head Start Facility, a five-acre site that hosts 500 hatchlings secured from predators and human activity, where they stay until they reach maturity. Nine years after hatching, the first 35 tortoises were released into the wild in 2015. “Along with military skills, we’ve also trained 30,000 Marines every year on desert tortoise conservation. Some of them pursue careers in wildlife biology as a result,” says Brian Henen, director of the tortoise efforts on the base.

Desert Tortoise Headstart program makes first release
Combat Center Chief of Staff, Col. James F. Harp releases tortoise 2-4 during the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs-hosted ceremony for the first release of tortoises from the Combat Center’s Desert Tortoise Headstart Program. Official USMC photo by Lauren Kurkimilis/Released


#9: Rare Sierra Nevada Red Fox Spotted in Yosemite: The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is one of the rarest mammals in North America, likely consisting of fewer than 50 individuals, and the creature had not been spotted in Yosemite in nearly 100 years—until remote cameras detected one in 2015. “We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of the Sierra Nevada red fox, one of the most rare and elusive animals in the Sierra Nevada,” stated Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. “National parks like Yosemite provide habitat for all wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red fox was sighted in the park.”

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Sierra Nevada Red Fox taken by Yosemite’s motion-sensitive camera. Photo via NPS


#10: Orphaned Fisher Kits Get a Brand New Start in Yosemite: The kits, two sets of siblings, were rescued south of the park after two radio-collared female fishers were killed by predators. Their release back into the wild is part of a four-year effort to reintroduce fishers north of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, a cooperative effort between the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW), Fresno-Chaffee Zoo, and the Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation.

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One of the four fisher kits released into Yosemite peeks out at his new home. Photo by Beth Pratt

Want to read more tales about California’s wild wonder? Watch for NWF California Director’s upcoming book, “When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors: People and Wildlife Working it Out in California,” coming in spring 2016 from Heyday Books.