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 January 5, hardly any of the structure was visible. The number has many observers asking for a second float.
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 December 24, 2016, and 38 on the former, now-demolished wooden dock on December 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. 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 to 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 ten 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 renown 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.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.