No Vacancy on Float for Harbor Seals

Richard Bangert Pelicans make their way across San Francisco Bay as some 70 harbor seals warm up in the sun on the south side of Alameda Point. The seals are taking their ease on a first-of-its-kind concrete and Styrofoam float provided by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which is constructing a ferry maintenance facility nearby.

 

The rain ended, the sun came out, and so did the harbor seals at Alameda Point. So many of them came out of the water to warm up on their new float on Jan. 5, hardly any of the structure was visible. The regional ferry agency installed the new float after removing an old Navy dock used by the seals, in order to make way for a ferry maintenance facility. 

“I nearly keeled over when I saw the platform,” said Lisa Haderlie Baker, harbor seal monitor and Alameda resident. “So many seals packed cheek by jowl, literally, that I had to count them four times using binoculars to make sure there were 60 of them, at least, basking in the sun, which I knew had to be close to a record. It was a tremendous thrill.” 

Haderlie Baker has been watching the seals since the days when they used the old wooden dock. In August she started volunteering with Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors, after the new harbor seal float was delivered.

Seal monitor photos taken later that day confirmed the presence of 70 harbor seals on the float. The previous record numbers in the harbor were 52 on the new float on Dec. 24, 2016, and 38 on the former, now-demolished wooden dock on Dec. 25, 2015.

Unlike sea lions, harbor seals do not like to touch each other. They will often slap fellow seals with their flippers to keep their distance. But with not enough space on the float and the need to get warm, it appears the seals are willing to tolerate the tight squeeze.

Getting a second float to relieve the crowding will have to wait at least two years, according to the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), which issued the permit for the harbor seal float and the ferry maintenance facility now under construction.

“BCDC staff would certainly meet with the city to discuss a proposal for a second haul-out,” said Erik Buehmann, permit analyst at BCDC. “However, because there will be significantly more boat activity in the area once the ferry maintenance facility is operational, any new haul-out should be planned in consultation with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) and incorporate the opinion of experts, such as Dr. Jim Harvey.” 

WETA retained Dr. Harvey, director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, as a consultant for designing and locating the new seal float. (“Harbor Seals Adapt to New Home Float, Aug. 9, 2016). This first-of-its-kind concrete and Styrofoam float was paid for by WETA at a cost of $68,000. WETA agreed to build and maintain a harbor seal float for the 60-year term of their maintenance facility lease. The 12-berth maintenance and command center is expected to be operational in 2018.

“BCDC staff is pleased at the success of this project so far,” said Buehmann. “The credit goes to the dedicated people in the community who advocated and worked hard to find the seals a new home and o WETA for its work in making it a reality. It is our hope that the seals will continue to embrace the haul-out even after the WETA facility is operational,” said Buehmann.

In early November, WETA’s maintenance facility contractor conducted 10 days of around-the-clock dredging. The seals using the new float appeared unfazed by the nearby commotion, providing a note of optimism that the seals will stay when ferry traffic commences.

Seal monitor Haderlie Baker is also an artist and painter whose work includes Alameda scenes. A member of the Sierra Club, Marine Mammal Center and the Nature Conservancy, she acquired her love of nature from her late father, Eugene C. Haderlie. He was a renowned marine biologist and educator who served on the first board of trustees for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “He would have been so pleased to know about our harbor seals,” said Haderlie Baker.

Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors provide updates on the seals on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/alamedaseals1.

 

Courtesy NOAA Harbor seals like these appear to enjoy their haul-out at Alameda Point more than every day sand.

 

Richard Bangert posts stories and photos about wildlife and environmental issues on his blog Alameda Point Environmental Report.