Updated March 2020 — like many of you, I go to nature for comfort and calming, now more than ever. And since we’re practicing social distancing, and staying inside more, I’ve been spending more time with animal cams, especially the live streaming ones. Below is my go-to list (updated with a few new links) and I’ll be adding to the post over the coming weeks. Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments below.
A couple of years ago, I set up a second computer display on my desk as a tool to improve my productivity. Turns out, though, I’m not a work-on-two-screens kind of person. I’m a work-on-one-screen-and-stream-animal-cams-on-the-other kind of person. Which means I’m also the kind of person who has a long list of animal cam links on regular rotation in my bookmarks bar.
The list below, in no particular order, includes 9 cams I find myself returning to again and again. I find these cams heartening because, like many people, I just love watching animals. But I also love these cams because they are an antidote to the despair I sometimes feel when it seems people are only growing more distant from the animals that share our planet.
There is hope and magic here in these living glimpses of a wild world that would otherwise remain hidden and unknown to us. So I hope you’ll check these out and share any of your own favorites in the comments. (And if you know of anyone who has a good reptile cam, please let me know. I’d really like to add one to my list.)
It’s important to note here that the majority of cams on this list owe a tremendous debt to Explore.org, a philanthropic media organization and division of the Annenberg Foundation. Their site is an amazing compendium of animal cams, from bears swimming in the Katmai to a family that raises great danes to be service dogs. You can also subscribe to Explore.org’s YouTube channels and even sign up for text alerts if something cool is happening on one of the cams you like.
But be warned: the sheer volume of animal cam goodness can be overwhelming. The first time I discovered explore.org, I lost an entire day.
Underwater Penguin Cam
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California has a fantastic portfolio of animal webcams in many of their exhibits. The underwater penguin cam, and the sea jellies mentioned in below are two of my favorites. There’s just something about watching animals swim or drift underwater that I could watch for hours. (Especially when I’m on deadline, or a conference call.) If you need even more penguin streaming action, there’s also an above water cam in the enclosure.
Baby Panda Cam
Wolong Nature Reserve in China
Does this really need any other description besides “Baby Panda Cam?” There are several panda cams out there, but I like this one from the Wolong Nature Reserve in China best. (For one thing, given the time difference, if I want to watch when it’s night in the continental U.S. where I live, the pandas are usually active on the other side of the world.) A project of Pandas International, Wolong’s Panda cam gives a glimpse into the Panda Center’s active breeding and reintroduction program.
Aquarium of the Pacific
This used to link to the weedy seadragon cam at the Aquarium of the Pacific, which was strangely hypnotic. When that camera (sadly) went offline, I switched over to the jelly cam, which turned out to be similarly mesmerizing. As a snorkeler and a diver (and a child traumatized by a couple of stings), I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to jellies, but as a nature observer, they’re amazing to watch.
This cam is like having an aquarium in my office that I don’t have to clean. I’ve also developed a new interest in the natural history of cnidarians (jellies) and ctenophores (comb jellies), species that have been on Earth for more than 500 million years. And even though people call them “jelly fish,” they’re definitely not fish.
African Watering Hole Live Cam
Mpala Research Station in Kenya
To my everlasting regret, I have yet to make it to Africa. This web cam from the Mpala Research Station in Kenya is my consolation. It has video and audio so I can have an authentic African sound track of bird song while watching hippos drift in the water, elephants come down to drink, and giraffes picking their way along the shore. There are several different camera views you can switch between, and a robust (and friendly) community in the comment threads. Scrolling through screenshots posted by users is a great way to see some amazing things — like an elephant silhouetted in moonlight — that you might have missed.
Wild Otters at Elkhorn Slough
Clearly, no animal cam list would be complete without otters. At the risk of dating myself, I first fell in love with otters as a child watching The Year of the Otter episode on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Between that show and Ranger Rick, my career path was pretty much set from a young age. I like the otter cam from Elkhorn Slough because the otters are wild, and it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into their daily lives. (I’m also partial to Elkhorn Slough because it’s one of my favorite Conservancy projects.)
There are two cams to switch between and while otters are the main attraction, because Elkhorn Slough is a research reserve you can often see other animals in the estuary, including sea lions. (Bonus: In 2016, a baby otter was born at Elkhorn Slough and you can see some of that video here.)
If you want animal cams that offer closer views of otters, the Seattle Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have cameras in their otter exhibits. And really, who wouldn’t want to have access to as many otter cams as possible?
Bison and Prairie Dog Cam
Grasslands National Park in Canada
I was obsessed with this cam for most of the summer. Streaming from Grasslands National Park in Canada it offers great views of bison and prairie dogs with multiple camera views to choose from. I’m not sure if they’ll stream through the Canadian winter — weather and daylight make animal cams in the wild difficult to maintain. That said, this is another explore.org-affiliated cam and so you can still get your baby bison fix. If the camera is down or off-season, the page will still stream highlights from the season before so if you need a dose of summer sunlight and green grass, this cam might be for you.
Channel Islands Ocean Web Cam
Channel Islands National Park
This is my Zen cam. If they’re tracking IP addresses to this site, I probably look like a stalker. Streaming live (in the spring and summer) from the kelp forest off Anacapa Island in California’s Channel Islands National Seashore, this has become my go-to cam. I could watch the kelp sway in the wave action and the orange garibaldi, eels and spiny lobsters dart through the sun-shot waters all day. This is another explore.org cam so when it’s dark or if the cam is offline for the season, the site will still stream highlights.
Grotto Hydrothermal Vent Cam
Ocean Networks Canada
Until I put this list together, I didn’t realize how biased I was toward underwater cameras. Clearly, I like to watch things swim. But this cam is different from all the others because of its location: the Grotto Hydrothermal Vent, located at a depth of 2186m on the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca ridge off Canada’s Pacific Coast. Unlike the others, this cam requires a bit of scheduling — because it’s always dark at that depth, scientists only turn on the lights for 20 minutes at specific intervals. (The schedule is on the site). There are some amazing creatures down in the depths and it’s worth it to set the alarm on your computer to get a glimpse of the world beneath the waves. Two words: tube worms.
If you miss the window for the hydrothermal vent, there is a companion web cam in much shallower water at the Folger Pinnacle Reef off the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Naked Mole-Rat Cam
Smithsonian's National Zoo
“So ugly they’re cute,” said my friend who recommended the National Zoo’s Naked Mole-Rat cam when I told her I was updating this list. Well, cute, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and I’m not sold on cute (those teeth!), but they are interesting. Which also brings us to their teeth, according to the FAQ on the National Zoo page, they can move their individual front teeth, like chopsticks! It gets more fascinating from there.