Harbor seals, those sleek and slinky residents of San Francisco Bay, now have a new venue where they can bask after swimming — a floating platform just offshore between Encinal Beach and the USS Hornet museum in Alameda. Harbor seals prey on anchovies, herring and bottom-dwelling fish in the bay, but they need to get out of the water in a safe place to warm up between swims.
Enter the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, a regional public transit agency. When WETA moved its maintenance facilities to Alameda, it had planned to destroy an old dock where a few seals often basked. After wildlife advocates objected, WETA financed construction of a floating platform where the seals could haul out.
The platform is 20 by 25 feet, with one side sloped to allow the seals easy access from the water. Built with reinforced concrete and a Styrofoam core, it’s the only known floating platform in the world made specifically for seals. The designer was Dr. Jim Harvey, director of San Jose State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
The seals seem to like it. Up to 80 of them have squeezed together on it, and mother seals have been seen nursing their pups there. The Marine Mammal Protection Act includes harbor seals. Boaters and kayakers should watch from a distance. If the seals raise their heads, it means that they feel threatened and you should back off. They can be seen easily with binoculars from the shoreline Bay Trail. The East Bay Regional Park District’s Encinal Beach is at the end of a service road off Alameda’s Central Avenue, just past Encinal High School and right after Lincoln Avenue. For more information and a map, visit facebook.com/alamedaseals1. To volunteer and report observations, contact [email protected].
Fees resumed: Fee collection has resumed at many East Bay regional parks. To encourage easy public access and use of regional parks and trails during the pandemic, the park district waived collection of all fees in 2020. However, the district resumed charging fees on Jan. 4 this year to help fund many of the programs and services that it hopes to reopen when the pandemic subsides.
Fees include parking, camping, fishing and boat launching. Fees may also be reinstated for use of seasonal facilities and services such as swimming, reservable picnic areas and recreational programs if these activities can resume later this year. The basic parking fee is $5 per vehicle ($6 at Del Valle south of Livermore). In fact, most East Bay regional parks charge no parking or entry fees. And those that do so at major entrances often have other entrances that are free of charge.
Online: Your go-to website for all sorts of useful outdoor recreation information is ebparks.org. Browsing the website, you can find out about the park district’s Trails Challenge, get the latest news updates, stay current on programs and policies, download park maps and brochures and view any of several dozen entertaining nature education programs produced by the district’s enthusiastic naturalist staff. Of course, the parks themselves are always open during daylight hours. But with a little advance research on the website, you can make your visit that much more safe and enjoyable.
Ned MacKay writes about East Bay Regional Park District sites and activities. Email him at [email protected].