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What Is Channel Islands National Park?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Images By: Grrlscientist, Eothman, Pilensphoto
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Channel Islands National Park is a United States national park off the coast of southern California, in the Pacific islands known as the Channel Islands. Although there are eight of these islands, only five of them are included in Channel Islands National Park. These are Santa Cruz Island, San Miguel Island, Anacapa Island, Santa Barbara Island, and Santa Rosa Island. Together, these islands consist of 249,561 acres (1,009.9 square kilometers). They are home to about 145 unique animal species, and have been inhabited or used by humans for about 12,000 years.

Visitors to Channel Islands National Park can enjoy camping and diving, as well as exploring the park's historical attractions. It is necessary to travel to the park either by boat or by plane.

Some of the animal species found in Channel Islands National Park include the northern elephant seal, the island fox, and the California brown pelican. The island night lizard is believed to be the only reptile species native to this island. Sea lions, harbor seals, and blue whales inhabit the waters surrounding Channel Island National Park.

In 1994, the skeleton of a pygmy mammoth, or Mammuthus exilis, an animal that lived about 13,000 years ago, was discovered in Channel Islands National Park. Scientists believe these animals lived only in the Channel Islands, having evolved from full-size mammoths that crossed to the islands about 20,000 years ago, when sea levels were low.

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Native peoples of the Chumash tribe are believed to have populated the Channel Islands about 12,000 years ago. Early inhabitants crossed back and forth from the mainland in canoes called "tomols." These boats, typically constructed from planks of redwood and sealed with a tar made from native pine saps, enabled the Chumash to fish, travel around, and between islands, and conduct business with communities on the mainland. Today, members of the Chumash tribe continue to make the traditional voyage to the mainland periodically, in honor of their ancestors and heritage.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European to discover the Channel Islands in 1542. In the 18th and 19th century, fur traders from America, Russia, and Britain hunted seals, sea lions, and otters on these islands, nearly driving many species extinct. Towards the end of the 19th century, ranchers began to settle on some of the islands, and military fortifications were erected in some places.

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