Floating Hope for Harbor Seals

A new cement float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. The seals had been opting to stay on the existing, familiar wooden dock. That option ended on Monday, July 11.

removing dockThe Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), the Bay Area’s ferry agency, removed the existing 270-foot-long wooden dock in preparation for building its new ferry maintenance facility, east of the USS Hornet. If the seals decide to stay in the harbor, they will have to adapt to the new structure. On Tuesday morning, July 12, four seals were on the new float, a promising development.

The new float was tied to the pilings alongside the old dock for about two weeks. It will be moved incrementally closer to Breakwater Beach, away from the planned ferry facility. Incremental moves are to allow time for the seals to adapt.

The sheltered harbor with good food foraging makes the area ideal for seals. When they come out of the water (haul out) they are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. The marine mammal expert who was hired by WETA, Dr. Jim Harvey, Director of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, says that ferries moving in and out of the area should not affect seal behavior.

Harbor seal sign Alameda PointKayakers were recently seen approaching the easily spooked seals. Folks who monitor the number of seals and their behavior posted a temporary sign at Breakwater Beach informing water users of the need to keep 150 feet away from the seals. The educational sign appears to be having a positive impact. The city will be posting a new sign in the near future. Harbor seals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits disturbing resting seals.

The new float is 20 feet by 25 feet. It will be held in place at its permanent location with four anchors. One side is sloped to make it easier for the seals to haul out. The float is made of reinforced concrete with Styrofoam enclosed within to keep it afloat. It was built at a cost to WETA of $68,000.

Harbor seal float under construction

photo courtesy of WETA

Here’s hoping the harbor seals like this first-of-its-kind resting structure built specifically for seals the same way that sea lions like the Pier 39 dock in San Francisco.

Seal advocates have done everything they can to ensure that these seldom seen mammals stay in Alameda, where they will be easily visible from the Bay Trail. They convinced the city and WETA to install the replacement float before demolishing the existing dock. Now nature has to take its course. Prior to July 12, harbor seal monitors reported seeing a single seal on the new float on only two occasions.

We will be watching, and interested members of the public can participate in monitoring the seals by contacting Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors at alamedaharborseals@gmail.com or viewing updates on their Facebook page.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun

wooden dock
IMG_1933beam used by sealsalameda-point-south-with-harbor-seal-haul-out

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4 Responses to Floating Hope for Harbor Seals

  1. Maria Gordanier says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this valuable and encouraging news! I’m very happy to know Alameda has caring and intelligent advocates for the animals. Bravo!

  2. Jack Mingo says:

    I’ve been watching the seals for more than a decade now. The float is incredibly tiny for the existing colony of 12-16 plus any new pups. This is especially true because they all have differing levels of social requirements. Although a part of the group, there are often several apart at any given time. This tiny dock is less than half the size needed. Unless, of course, the plan is to shrink the population down to six or fewer, and then zero– then maybe it’s perfect? Let’s assume good faith though — what are the possibilities / plans if it turns out to be inadequate?

    • Irene says:

      Fortunately, WETA has a vested interest in having this float be successful. If we’re lucky enough that it becomes too crowded, we’ll have to look into getting an additional one. There’s no law that says we can’t have two.

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