The Definitive Ranking of Livestream Wildlife Cams
We witnessed sad sharks, baby bison in danger, and more puffins than any one person deserves to see in a day—and we've determined which streams you should watch.
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It’s that time of year again. The Explore.org Katmai bear cam is back in action, providing a 24/7 livestream of unsuspecting brown bears in their natural habitat. The bear cam and the dozens of others available on the site have become increasingly popular in the last six years, and some would argue they’re another tool for fighting conservation apathy.
One thing is for certain: the bear cam is hypnotizing. Will we see a cub? Will they catch fish? What bear things will they do next? To celebrate the return of this old standby, we ignored our overflowing inboxes and tuned into Explore.org’s many other wilderness cams for a few minutes (or more…way more). Here is our scientific ranking of the best places to watch awesome animals in action:
7. Polar Bears in Wapusk National Park, Canada
I assumed my post at 2:36 p.m. MST. Violent winds shook the camera, making the footage nauseating to watch after five seconds. There was nothing to see but an empty horizon—I accepted the challenge and played Where's Waldo, scouring the screen for a hint of an adorable polar bear playing in the far off distance. After a full minute passed with no sign of said polar bear, the camera panned: There's nothing, literally nothing, going on in Wapusk National Park right now. By 2:47 p.m., I gave up hope and returned to my work.
—Ash Dumford, social media editor
6. Shark Lagoon
I was very excited to view the “Shark Lagoon” livestream but was a bit disappointed.
A) Not a lagoon—very much an aquarium tank.
B) No sound. Attention dwindled quickly.
C) It was just sharks swimming around a tank, a bit boring. Feeding time might be more fun.
—Marie Sullivan, associate video producer
5. Penguin Habitat
2:00 p.m. Oh, this stream is from a zoo in California. There are about eight penguins chilling on an artificial beach. I guess that makes sense, but for some reason I was getting ready to watch a feed from Antarctica.
2:06 p.m. What’s up, guys? Don’t you want food? Water? Shade? If you’re just hanging out, why not lie down instead?
2:07 p.m. Just realized there’s a baby penguin cam, too. Switching.
2:09 p.m. He just turned his back on me. Now he’s lying down! C’mon little man!
2:16 p.m. Five minutes later and he hasn’t done anything.
2:27 p.m. I don’t know what I was expecting—obviously these animals have no obligation to entertain me.
—Wes Judd, assistant editor
4. Audubon Puffin Boulder Berm
There are four puffin cameras on Seal Island, a national wildlife refuge off the coast of Maine. This is useful, because the puffins are not always present in all of them at the same time. But more often than not, I was able to find one (or, sometimes, many) of the birds on camera. The best two views are in the dens, where you get to see puffins up close and can also hear their call—a low growl of the kind often made by a house cat. (Puffins, apparently, do not otherwise make noise—the calls made in the video are of another bird entirely.)
—Jonah Ogles, senior editor
3. Bison and Prairie Dogs in Grasslands National Park
Watching bison graze under the morning light of Saskatchewan was oddly satisfying. The highlight was witnessing a young bison lick an electric fence—a mistake it will certainly not make again. This was a unique moment that only a live cam could capture. The prairie dogs were boring. Their erratic and anxious feeding left everything to be desired. A camera near the entrance of a burrow might provide more action. Better yet, a camera in a burrow!
Score: 7/10 for the bison; 2/10 for the prairie dogs.
—Ben Fox, editorial assistant
2. Bears in Katmai National Park
I just watched one bear sloshing through the water, and it somehow managed to be stupidly cute while moving, but also regal-looking when sitting around. The waterfalls were very soothing, but the seagulls slightly ruined my experience—especially when they started devouring something in the background when I was just trying to distract myself from my mounting pile of work with some cute bears.
—Molly Mirhashem, editorial assistant
1. Charlo Montana Osprey Nest
10:42 a.m. My editor assigns me the Charlo Montana Osprey Nest, informing me that I “have a thing for scary birds.”
10:50 a.m. There are three birds in the nest. They all seem to be of about equal size. I ask Google if ospreys are polygamous; apparently only rarely.
10:55 a.m. It appears that one of the birds is actually smaller than the other two. I call him Flighty because he seems ill-equipped to fly. The other birds I name Mama Bird and Pops.
10:56 a.m. Mama Bird ruffles her feathers. It is incredibly loud on my speakers.
10:57 a.m. Pops starts screeching. The magazine's deputy editor walks by, and I decide to up the volume. It's melodic.
10:59 a.m. There is a surprisingly active comment thread on this feed (36,000-plus). Apparently, the birds have already been named. There's Char, This One, and That One. I think Char is the dad. Mom is unnamed. Or she's gone. This is confusing and I prefer my names.
11:01 a.m. I sign up for the text message alert hotline.
11:03 a.m. The birds start making new noises. More like a clucking. I'm tempted to message our executive editor, who is unhealthily into birds, but determine that I shouldn't for the sake of my career.
11:05 a.m. Commotion! Pops takes off. Flighty is perplexed. Mama Bird doesn't give a damn.
11:07 a.m. Flighty stands up, and goddamn is he good looking. He looks hungry. Maybe that's why Pops flew off?
11:09 a.m. The screeching has stopped, and I find that depressing. I can't exactly leave this feed open all day on my main monitor. I consider working from home.
11:29 a.m. I break down and message our executive editor [Mike Roberts] about the birds.
SR: The dad just came back with a fish. I think he’s ripping it apart and feeding them.
MR: It’s what dads do. I do it every night.
During my wedding ceremony, an osprey flew by carrying a fish. Should have known then I’d end up with three kids!
SR: How’d you notice that during the ceremony? Didn’t you have other things to focus on?
MR: I always notice the birds. I can’t not notice them.
—Scott Rosenfield, online editor