Shake, Rattle, and Ignore

Harbor seals resting at Alameda PointHarbor seals have been coming to Alameda Point to find food and a suitable breeding habitat and resting area in recent years, taking up residence at a site adjacent to Enterprise Park and the Bay Trail. Rather than encouraging their homestead, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) wants to kick them out. It will be a permanent loss for the seals and a lost asset for the community and visitors to enjoy.

WETA is applying for a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service that would allow temporary harassment of the seals while it tears down the seals’ haul-out site and builds a new ferry maintenance and operations facility in its place. The Service is tasked to determine whether the project would negatively impact the marine mammals and, if so, to institute mitigation measures to offset the negative impacts. The deadline for public comment is October 17, 2014.

Other than a temporary loss of foraging habitat during the construction, according to WETA the only harassment the seals will experience will be from the shaking and noise from the expected pile driving and pile removal activities that will take place over a two- to three-week period during the construction project. Thus, they plan to minimize the sound levels and do a “soft start” technique of vibrations to “allow the seals to vacate the area before the pile driver reaches full power” and will pause if the seals appear disturbed.

DSC_0103The fact that WETA will be permanently destroying the seals’ haul-out site has been ignored in their environmental assessment report. They brush off the concern because observations show that only about 20 seals at a time are in the area. Thus, they make no provision for building a new haul-out site to mitigate the loss of breeding area.

Imagine what San Francisco would do if WETA wanted to remove their sea lion docks by Pier 39.

It’s bad enough that our city chose to allow a ferry maintenance facility directly next toBay Trail what could have been a serene atmosphere for a campground and park. I so hope I’m wrong, but park goers and/or potential campers will now wake up to the rumbling engines and diesel exhaust from ferries. Kayakers, boaters and fishermen will also have to adjust. The least WETA could do is build another haul-out site for the seals. It should be added as a mitigation measure before construction begins.

The National Marine Fisheries Service says it will fully consider public comments received in response to the proposed harassment permit. I say we ought to make some noise before WETA does.

Send comments via email to itp.guan@noaa.gov or via postal mail to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun

Related story: D is for Displaced: A Harbor Seal Mystery

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2 Responses to Shake, Rattle, and Ignore

  1. Rachel Campos de Ivanov says:

    Thank you, Irene! I know I’ve submitted my comments to the NMFS and have encouraged others to do so. I hope we can at least provide some sort of alternate habitat for my favorite citizens of Alameda.

  2. Mark Klein says:

    Thanks for your informative article which I accidentally found today. It prompted me to write a letter to NOAA/NMFS today as follows:
    I am a resident of Alameda and wanted to comment on the current plan for a ferry facility on Alameda point. I am particularly upset that there is no accommodation for the harbor seals who have been using the old dock as a haulout, especially during pupping season. (FYI, I worked several years on animal care crew at The Marine Mammal Center, taking care of harbor seal pups, so I have a special concern for these charismatic animals.)

    I often visit the old dock just to watch the seals’ activity, such as in this video I made last March, and have met other people who stop by to admire the animals. It is a good place to see these animals without having to travel far, and enhances the area much like the sea lions do in San Francisco.

    More importantly, the harbor seals need the haulout, and some no doubt will be returning in pupping season and be stressed out to find it gone. It seems to me that a haulout for seals could easily be integrated into the master plan.

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