Tag Archives: Bison

Toyon Bay Safari Animals

If you are slightly familiar with Catalina Sea Camp, you have most likely heard of our friendly neighborhood bison. But there are so many other species of animals that call Toyon Bay home. Every week, we welcome circa 200 campers to invade the bay and to have one of the best weeks of their summer. I wanted to take a look at the more permanent residents of the bay.



Bison Bison

The bison is not native to Catalina Island. In 1924, a filming company decided to take advantage of the beauty of Catalina Island to film the movie “The Vanishing American” there. Then someone on the crew decided that they simply must have bison there in order to enhance the movie. They paid to have these bison shipped over to the island, they filmed the movie, and then they shipped off—without the bison. Now, this massive animal has made the island its home, and sometimes makes trips down to camp to say hello.


Photograph by: Ashley Hann



My only encounter with sea stars had been watching the talkative one in Finding Nemo. Then one day, I joined a group of campers on a snorkel, and our instructor dove down and found one. I watched, just as fascinated and intrigued as the 10 and 11 year olds, as our instructor showed us the creature. She later told me that she was worried about the stress level of the sea star, which when risen, can cause their limbs to fall off. A common party trick for sea stars and other aquatic creatures, this defense mechanism can occur without killing the sea star due to its regenerative nature.

animals sea star


Zalophus californianus

We’ve seen them on scuba diving trips, kayaking trips, blue water boat trips, around our float during the evening hours, and even on our beach a time or two. These babies can grow up to 800 pounds, but can cruise through the water at up to 25 miles per hour. If you have never seen one of these creatures move through the water, go to YouTube and spend some time researching. It’s nothing short of magic.

animals sea lion

Photograph by: Ashley Hann


Triakis semifasciata

So my boss told me that we would probably see sharks my first time snorkeling here in the bay (also my first time snorkeling ever). As prepared as she made me to face these lurking masses, I still had to force myself to breathe normally when I first saw its shadow about six feet away from me. Since then, I have probably seen a hundred of these guys, and I am now proud to say that I have touched one (in a closely monitored touch tank here in camp, but still). In reality, these sharks are fairly harmless. They are bottom feeders, so their mouths are towards the bottom of the sea floor; meaning bites to humans are difficult and thus uncommon.

animals shark

Photograph by: Gretchen Beehler


Hypsypops rubicundus

These bright orange little fish are all over our bay. They’re territorial little buggers, but they also make for a beautiful pop of color. Garibaldis are protected in California because they are the state marine fish. Some people say these fish can be trained to do a back flip, but I have only ever heard of one specific garibaldi that can do it.


animals garibaldi

Photograph by: Ashley Hann


Urocyon littoralis catalinae

One of the first nights here I saw a stray cat near me. Nostalgic for my cat at home, I beckoned for it to come close to me and love me. After attempting and failing for longer than I care to admit, the creature ran away, and I realized that the animal I was trying to snuggle was a wild fox. The Catalina Island Fox is threatened specie of fox. It is registered with the Conservancy program on the island, which has been working since 2004 to bring population levels back up to normalcy. In 2004, there were just over 300 foxes on the island. As of 2017, over 2,000 foxes have been reported. Despite the work done and the accomplishments of the initiative, this fox remains threatened, and efforts will not cease.

Joel Sartore, a National Geographic award winning photographer featured the Catalina Island Fox in his photo project on endangered species, entitled the Photo Ark. Check it out here!


Canis lupus familiaris

The most dangerous animals on the island—rock-fetching retrievers. These four pooches belong to our longstanding admin in the bay. You can follow Casi’s life here on her very own Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/casi_at_cimi/). All four of them have a very stressful life of unlimited affection and belly rubs, wide-open spaces to frolic and play, and all the rocks to fetch in the ocean that they could ever want. There are no signs that these animals will become endangered anytime soon, but I’ll keep you updated.

These are only a few of the most common fauna here in Toyon Bay, and I, for one, look forward to many more run-ins with these incredible animals.




Bison 101 on World Wildlife Day

Catalina Island is known for its biodiversity and natural beauty both underwater and on land. One creature of particular interest is the American Bison (Bison bison). Have you ever wondered how such a big animal ended up on an island twenty two miles away from the mainland, and hundreds of miles further from the Great Plains?

Though now an iconic feature of the island, the bison were not always here. In 1924, a small herd of 14 bison were brought over to Catalina Island during the filming of the movie The Vanishing American. After filming, the bison were released into the Catalina wild and eventually more were brought over for a breeding program. Having no island predators near large enough to prey on the bison, the herd sized boomed to near 600 by the 1970’s! The bison were grossly overpopulated, causing ecological damage such as over-grazing and erosion. This presented a unique dilemma for the Catalina Island Conservancy: how do you maintain a healthy population of bison on such a small island? Studies showed that about 150 bison could live here sustainably. In 2009, after a few different ideas of how to preserve a healthy herd (including sending off excess bison to market in California or a reserve in South Dakota), a seemingly perfect solution was found. Currently, female bison (called “cows”) are darted with a contraceptive that has a 95% success rate. The contraceptive allows the conservancy to limit the bison numbers to just around 150. This is a great success story of wildlife management for the betterment of both the animals and people.

More than just a tourist attraction on Catalina Island, American Bison are a national treasure. Weighing over a ton, bison are the heaviest land animals in North America. Don’t let their size fool you though, they can also jump up to 6 feet off the ground and run at rapid speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Though they used to be scattered all across the Great Plains, over 20 million bison were killed off as Americans were moving west during the 19th century. By the year 1889, only 1,091 bison were left in the United States. Today, after intense protective measures, bison populations have bounced back to about 500,000 with near 30,000 in conservation herds, like on Catalina. It goes to show that with some environmental awareness and responsible actions, humans are able to coexist peacefully with animals in the natural world.

Written by: Max Veenema


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