Alameda in pictures: The disintegrating dock

Alameda in pictures: The disintegrating dock

Michele Ellson

Wildlife watchers out at Alameda Point got a jolt in May when a section of pier used by harbor seals as a "haul out" where they can rest and nest disappeared. One local blogger and longtime Point watcher, Irene Dieter, said she thinks the dock may have been dismantled deliberately, saying that a boom supporting it came and went and that ropes that held the dock in place appeared to have been cut and taken away.

Dieter has questioned whether the planned construction of a Water Emergency Transportation Authority operations and maintenance center nearby had anything to do with the loss of the dock, which sits along the Bay Trail behind the USS Hornet. But officials with the city and WETA, along with the East Bay Regional Park District - which manages the Bay Trail section that snakes along the shoreline - are all claiming they had nothing to do with the dock's disintegration.

"The story is, the dilapidated piers have fallen into the water, as they have done over time," said Nanette Mocanu, the city’s acting assistant community development director. "It simply has fallen into the bay."

Mocanu said WETA needs to enter an agreement with the city - which is responsible for the dock - to do work at the Point, something that the agency has done twice; she said neither instance involved the dock. WETA's Kevin Connolly said the ferry agency hasn't yet signed a lease with the city for its future Point facility, so it's not responsible for maintaining the dock.

The city's port manager for the Point said the lost dock "has likely been blown away from winds or tides or simply came apart." In an e-mailed response to questions forwarded by Mocanu, he said the dock had been secured by "someone other than ourselves utilizing small lines. These likely failed through age, friction and sun exposure and again made worse by the winds and tide."

Both the city and Dieter noted that the seals are still making use of the remaining section of dock, and Dieter and commenters on her blog said they want to make sure the seals stay in place. Paper signs have been posted near the seal dock seeking to keep the seals in the Alameda Point harbor.

Rotted pier parts litter the Alameda Point shoreline, but a handful of seals and the myriad shorebirds who graced the rickety remains of the dock seemed undeterred. Earlier this week, a reporter spotted them sunning themselves as the birds fished and kayakers and cargo ships alike slid by silently in the harbor and beyond.

In a comment on her website, Dieter expressed concern that the WETA project - rather than time and age - could spell the end of the sunny seal spot.

"Hopefully we can get the approvals to be conditional on providing a new haul out in the harbor," she wrote.


Submitted by Irene D. on Fri, Jun 27, 2014

One point of clarification regarding what Nanette Mocanu said: The section of the dock that the seals used to hang out on did not sink or “fall into the Bay.” It floated eastward and is a couple hundreds yards away at Breakwater Beach. Half of it is on the riprap and the other half is on the beach.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Fri, Jun 27, 2014

Thanks for the clarification, Irene!

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Fri, Jun 27, 2014

As a frequent kayaker in this area I also observed the sudden loss of this critical seal haul-out, but assumed it had just decayed and floated off. I strongly support the effort to maintain a safe haul-out for these animals, and would hope CDFW would have some authority in this regard. Once the remaining structure is lost, it will be a critical loss for these furtive animals. The upcoming development will certainly bring dogs and other forms of harassment, protection measures need to be fast-tracked.

Submitted by Jack Mingo (not verified) on Fri, Jun 27, 2014

No, that isn't the missing piece of dock. That's a much larger piece of something else that floated in. I have been monitoring the seals for a few years on my daily runs and have photos, both before and after.

Whoever removed the piece in question tied it neatly to the side of the dock (in fact, you can see about 1/3 of it in the photo above). What made it useful for raising seal pups was that floated very low in the water and was far from land. Perhaps they found another place, perhaps (as with many baby harbor seals) they didn't survive the destruction.

It wouldn't be hard to retie/rechain this piece in the original position to the dock. I have contemplated doing it in my canoe, but have worried that I would end up doing more harm than good to the four young adult seals that still live there. Not to mention breaking the law against disturbing seal haul-outs, even if it's to fix them.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on Mon, Jun 30, 2014

I'm not against seal haul outs,or sea lions or harbor seals.

But if you look at the problems which exist in Monterey California harbor and it's tremendous problems of haul outs of numerous sea lions on vessels, docks and harbor walkways boaters and commercial boating operations become a bit concerned with the possibility of large number of harbor seals and especially sea lions inhabiting the Oakland estuary. (I have spotted increasing individual sea lion activity in Oakland Estuary and the Alameda marinas of Marina Village and Pacific Marina harbors over the past year.)

I would much support movement of haul out floats to a location away from potential commercial operations such as ferry ports or marinas. Our city's actions in leaving these dilapidated docks to the forces of the elements is certainly not going to provide long term refuge for the seals. I assume it will ultimately become a point of extended conflict with environmentalists. Sooner or later these haul outs will all detach or sink and will become hazardous debris in and on the bay or on the shores nearby.

Perhaps Our fair city administration could entertain consideration of a long term accommodation solution to preservation of haul out platforms for these mammals. The way it seems be progressing we will see conflict with Alameda administration-WETA and environmentals which will take much energy and foment to attain a readonable outcome.