New resting spot for seals moves forward

New resting spot for seals moves forward

Dave Boitano

Harbor seals who now chill out on a crumbling dock off Alameda Point got some good news at the City Council's regular meeting Tuesday night: A project to build a new resting spot for the marine mammals is moving ahead.

The seals now use a derelict dock anchored in San Francisco Bay off Alameda Point as a “haul out” or platform to rest in between foraging for fish and other aquatic prey. But their current site is in the path of a planned maintenance and fueling site for public ferries operated by Water Emergency Transportation Agency. Up to 12 boats serving commuters on various bay routes could be accommodated at the facility.

Public concern for the seals' safety prompted the city and the ferry agency to plan an alternative “haul out” for the animals at a cost of up to $100,000.

A public working group was formed to enlist experts on seal behavior. They chose James Harvey, a biologist with the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, as a consultant.

It’s estimated that between six and 46 seals now frequent the area, according to a report prepared by Harvey.

Harbor seals are light grey in color and are different from the darker California sea lions seen throughout the bay.

But choosing a new haul out site can be tricky, Assistant Community Development Director Nanette Mocanu told the council.

“When you think about a seal, you think about sea lions, which are super-social animals,” she said. “But the seals we are talking about are the cats of the sea mammal world. They are very particular (about) where they haul out.”

So picky, in fact, that there are no guarantees that the seals will favor their new resting place, Mocanu said.

After visiting Alameda Point, Harvey recommended the new haul out be anchored near the current one but 100 meters offshore and 250 meters southeast of the ferry facility.

An alternate site a greater distance from the old dock was less desirable because the nearby water is choppy and the seals may not be find it, Mocanu said.

The new location would allow visitors walking on the shore to see the seals and their activity, according to the report.

Kayakers also frequent the waters, but signs would be posted warning them to stay at least 100 meters from the animals and that the seals are protected by federal law.

The ferry agency must now obtain a permit for the haul out from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission - which regulates bay development - before work can begin. If all permits are granted in a reasonable amount of time, the new floating hangout could be ready in 2016, according to Harvey’s proposal.

Related: Council considers lease for ferry maintenance facility