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”

No vacancy on float for harbor seals

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.

Seventy harbor seals rest on new float at Alameda Point on January 5, 2017.
Seventy harbor seals rest on new float at Alameda Point on January 5, 2017.

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.”  Continue reading “No vacancy on float for harbor seals”

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”

Parking shortage dogs Main St. Ferry Terminal

Ferry riders driving to the Main Street Ferry Terminal began using an extra parking lot in May. The city-owned O Club parking lot across the street from the terminal provides 121 spaces under a temporary license agreement with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). Despite the added parking lot, the street shoulder and unpaved lot west of a dog park continue to absorb overflow.

O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.
O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.

“Ridership has grown 29 percent since May, the month we opened the lot,” said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development. “Given that the street and dirt lot were basically full at that time, it makes sense that the O Club has absorbed the additional riders.”

Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry riders.
Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry riders.

Continue reading “Parking shortage dogs Main St. Ferry Terminal”

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”

Ferry agency, volunteers help the least terns

Three thousand tons of sand was added to the nesting grounds for the least terns at Alameda Point in late February and early March. In the weeks that followed, volunteers from St. George Spirits and the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts came out to help make the site ready for the arrival of the terns in mid-April.

Sand being delivered to the least tern nesting grounds at Alameda Point on February 25, 2016. Bay Bridge in the background.
Sand being delivered to the least tern nesting grounds at Alameda Point on February 25, 2016. Bay Bridge in the background.

The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) paid for enough sand to cover half of the 9.6-acre nesting area with three inches of sand, as well as for grading. The weeklong delivery of sand was a conservation mitigation requirement for the impact that WETA’s new ferry maintenance facility will have on the terns’ feeding area. As many as 12 ferries will make up to four passes per weekday through the Alameda Point Channel where the terns frequently dive for small fish.

Wind and water erosion take their toll on the sand substrate lying atop old airfield taxiway pavement, requiring periodic replenishment. This latest delivery of Angel Island coarse sand has built up the sand depth on much of the site to the point that it’s starting to feel like a real beach underfoot. Beaches are the traditional nesting habitat for terns. Continue reading “Ferry agency, volunteers help the least terns”