Bottlenose dolphins visit Breakwater at Alameda Point

Bottlenose dolphins do not usually come to mind when thinking of wildlife at Alameda Point.  In fact, only three have been observed there in recent years, and those sightings were from canoes and kayaks.  But on July 24, two more dolphins were observed with two regulars meandering around next to Breakwater Island.  The standalone rock wall, or breakwater, is visible from Pier 3 where the USS Hornet Museum is berthed.

The first-time visitors were from Monterey Bay and identified by researchers with Golden Gate Cetacean Research (GGCR).  The group tracks the dolphins using a catalog of 91 dolphins showing individual markings, some with names. Continue reading “Bottlenose dolphins visit Breakwater at Alameda Point”

Harbor seal numbers spike during herring spawning

Alameda Point’s harbor seal population fluctuates between single digits and 50 during most of the year on the specially-built harbor seal float.  But when the Pacific herring arrive in the winter to lay their eggs, many more seals arrive to feast on the herring, causing a sudden spike.  Last winter, a spike in seal numbers to a record 70 came on January 5, 2017, in the midst of the herring run.  This winter, the herring arrived sooner, in December, and so did more harbor seals, causing a spike to a new record of 73 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In the brief time span since the new harbor seal float was set in place, local monitors have assumed that it was simply the colder water temperatures that enticed greater numbers of seals to use the float in the winter.  But in fact, they discovered it’s not the full story.

It turns out that dropping water temperature indeed has an effect, but the effect is on the herring.  Ideal water temperature for herring spawning is between 50 and 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  The water temperature at Alameda Point dropped below 54 degrees the afternoon of December 16 and continued dropping another 2.3 degrees, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  This brought on the herring run and, in turn, the voracious seals.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graph of water temperatures at Alameda Point between December 15, 2017, and January 5, 2018, with harbor seal graph added by Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors. Click on image to enlarge.

Continue reading “Harbor seal numbers spike during herring spawning”

New ferry to begin service

~More bike space, faster boarding, quieter ride, lower emissions

Ferry riders at the Alameda Main Street Terminal will soon be boarding the MV Hydrus, the cleanest running 400 passenger ferry in the world.  The state-of-the-art ferry is designed for quicker on-boarding and off-boarding, faster speeds, low noise and vibration, and low emissions.  The bicycle storage capacity will be more than doubled to 50 from the current capacity of 20 on the MV Encinal, which it will replace.

Captain Al Lewis and the Hydrus crew were running through training exercises in the Oakland Estuary on March 28.  They stopped at the Main Street Terminal just after the Encinal departed with passengers.  The Encinal was built in 1985 and was owned by the City of Alameda during the period when the city operated the ferry service to San Francisco.  At 27 meters in length, the Encinal looked small by comparison to the 41-foot-long Hydrus.

Continue reading “New ferry to begin service”

Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) issued a new regional planning document on August 30, 2016, suggesting the amount of housing needed in Alameda to meet state goals. MTC is requesting input from local jurisdictions.

Alameda City Planner Andrew Thomas slammed the commission’s recommendations as being woefully out of touch with Alameda’s existing land uses and its limited regional transit connections.

Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.
Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.

MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas. Continue reading “Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda”

Harbor seals adapting to new float

A new concrete float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. It is the first-of-its-kind on the West Coast. With seals starting to use the new platform, a milestone has been reached culminating two-and-a-half years of citizen advocacy to maintain a resting site for harbor seals at Alameda Point. A ferry maintenance facility is slated to begin construction this summer where the seals have been finding solitude for over a decade. The new float will be anchored 300 yards away to the east.

Harbor seals on new float Alameda

In an effort to acclimate the seals to their new float and surroundings, the float is being moved in stages to its permanent location. It will be anchored a hundred yards offshore from the Bay Trail near the soccer field on West Hornet Avenue. Continue reading “Harbor seals adapting to new float”

Seaplane Lagoon ferry service in limbo

The new residential and commercial developer at Alameda Point has set aside $10 million toward the construction of a passenger ferry terminal at the Seaplane Lagoon. The Bay Area’s ferry agency – the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) – however, has made it clear there is currently no funding to operate a ferry there.

WETA “will entirely exhaust its available operating subsidies on an annual basis, relying upon projected increases in ridership and fares to cover increasing operating costs for existing services,” stated a draft 10-year Short Range Transit Plan that WETA issued in January for public comment. “WETA’s ability to increase service levels and meet future demand for ferry service will be restricted until new regional or local sources of operating subsidy are secured,” the draft stated.

Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.
Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.

WETA’s revenue picture is more limited than other regional transit agencies, such as BART. In WETA’s case, half of its operations funding comes from fares. Most of the other half — $15.3 million — comes from bridge tolls through Regional Measure 2, which was passed in 2005 adding a $1 bridge toll. A Harbor Bay parcel assessment funds 10 percent of the Harbor Bay service.  Continue reading “Seaplane Lagoon ferry service in limbo”

Scouts join volunteer effort for least terns at Alameda Point

Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts were helpful in getting the least tern nesting area ready for the 2015 season.

Cub Scouts distributing oyster shells around the nesting area for the least terns.
Cub Scouts distributing oyster shells around the nesting area for the least terns.

Fifteen boys from Cub Scout Pack 1015 and three boys from Boy Scout Troop 73, along with 18 parent volunteers, came out to the least tern nesting area at Alameda Point on Sunday, April 12. They joined a dozen students from UC Berkeley’s Tau Beta Pi fraternity, and five students from Oakland School for the Arts’ Club Impact and Empowerment. The volunteers put out oyster shells and tern shelters, made fence repairs, and trimmed weeds. It was the final work party before the terns arrive later in April to begin nesting. 

Piles of oyster shells.  Two students mending plastic mesh fencing to keep chicks from wandering through the chain link fence.
Piles of oyster shells. Two students mending plastic mesh fencing to keep chicks from wandering through the chain link fence.

“The older boys in our Webelos Den have been studying the least tern as part of their Naturalist Badge where they study local birds who are endangered, as well studying the local ecosystem and wetlands,” said Dorinda von Stroheim, Bear Den Leader Pack 1015. “The younger scouts are working towards their World Conservation Award where the boys are encouraged to ‘think globally’ and ‘act locally.’”

Least tern adult with chick sitting in a depression in the sand in 2014.
Least tern adult with chick sitting in a depression in the sand in 2014.

When asked what they liked most about their day of volunteering, Dash, age 9, said, “Digging up all the weeds! We did a lot of work but that part was fun!” Will, age 8, said, “I liked putting out the oyster shells the best because the little baby birds will now be protected. Also we saw a big spider!” They also saw some crickets and fence lizards.

The oyster shells are similar in color to a tern chick and make it harder for flying predators to spot them, especially if the chicks hunker down under the flanks of a larger shell. A-frame wooden shelters and terracotta drain tiles also provide shelter from predators and from the sun.

Scouts loading oyster shells

By mid-June, the 9.6-acre sand-covered site could be humming with activity with as many as 300 chicks scampering around waiting for food to arrive. The adults dive for small fish in nearby waters from Alameda Point to Crab Cove.

“The boys felt a big sense of accomplishment being part of the conservation project in April,” said von Stroheim. “It was great to see how even these young boys age 8-12 could contribute in a meaningful way to the work. The parents also enjoyed getting to be part of such an important Alameda project.” The Elks Lodge in Alameda sponsors Cub Scout Pack 1015.

The public will have an opportunity to visit the site on Saturday, June 20. The annual Return of the Terns bus tours leave from the Crab Cove Visitor Center on McKay Avenue following a presentation. Tour times are 11 am, 12:15, and 1:30.

Registration is required via the East Bay Regional Park District’s website. The cost is $11 for adults or $9 for youth (over 8 years).  The tours are co-sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District and Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Published in the Alameda Sun.

Picking up oyster shells.
Picking up oyster shells.
Volunteers at work.  Looking south.
Volunteers at work. Looking south.
The view toward San Francisco at the start of the volunteer work day.  Lettered and number cinder blocks are used to record nesting activity by a grid system.  Tiles and A-frames were spread around the site for use as shelters.
The view toward San Francisco at the start of the volunteer work day. Lettered and number cinder blocks are used to record nesting activity by a grid system. Tiles and A-frames were spread around the site for use as shelters.
UC Berkeley students trimming tall pampas grass near the nesting site.
UC Berkeley students trimming tall pampas grass near the nesting site.