More Harbor Seals Call WETA Dock Home

First there was one, then three, then five, and now more than 70 harbor seals a week are "hauling-out" on the floating concrete dock built especially for them in Alameda Point Harbor.

The new cement float built especially for harbor seals in Alameda Point Harbor was placed close to the old location and sloped for easy access from the water. Photo by Richard Bangert, Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors


Published: October, 2019

First there was one, then three, then five, and now more than 70 harbor seals a week are “hauling-out” on the floating concrete dock built especially for them in Alameda Point Harbor.  

Located a few hundred yards off WETA’s glistening new Central Bay Maintenance and Operations Facility, inaugurated just last December, the dock represents a successful collaboration between WETA, City of Alameda officials and local activists.  

Planning for the maintenance facility began in 2008, wrapping up in 2012 after a robust environmental analysis had been completed. But it was only then, after all the plans were all set, that harbor seals began showing up and hauling-out at a small old dock on the site of the project.  

While no one is certain why the seals suddenly appeared, a prominent theory is that they came from Yerba Buena Island, driven away by the construction of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span. “It’s hard to say for certain,” said James Harvey, a marine mammal specialist with Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. “Seals move around a lot in general, but they also do respond to disturbances, especially when they’re prolonged.”  

Having arrived at Alameda, however, the seals might have suffered a second rude eviction because the old dock—originally used by the Navy, which had a small marina at the site—needed to be torn down to make way for the new maintenance facility. But activists in Alameda organized a campaign to protect the pinnipeds, collecting thousands of petition signatures and speaking out at public meetings.  

“The local community cared about the seals, and they let us know it,” says Michael Gougherty, senior planner and project manager at WETA. Spurred by those grassroots concerns and with a push from local government, WETA decided it needed to find a way to accommodate the seals. But the agency wasn’t immediately sure how to proceed.  

“There was no precedent for how to re-create habitat for harbor seals,” Gougherty said. “They are more skittish by nature than, say, the sea lions that hang out at Pier 39, so we weren’t sure whether a new float would work.”  

To improve its chances of success, WETA hired Harvey, the marine mammal specialist who has studied seals for more than 40 years. Under his guidance, a new float was built close to the old location, sloped for easy access from the water.  

Alameda environmentalists also took pieces of lumber from the old dock and placed them on the new one, so it would have a familiar smell. With the new float in place, the old dock was destroyed and, as Harvey had envisioned, the seals began migrating to their new resting spot—which was only gradually moved in stages to its current location away from shore.  

“It happened just as I hoped, which doesn’t always work like that in my life,” said Harvey with a laugh. “Now we have more seals using the float than ever used the old site.”  

Gougherty said Alameda city officials have been especially helpful in educating kayakers and small craft about the seals, creating a buffer zone around the dock that ferry boats observe as well. “It’s actually a perfect location,” said Gougherty. “People on land can see them without having to use binoculars, but they are far enough out not to be spooked by human presence.”  

And having found a new site that works, the seals aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. “As long as they’re not disturbed,” said Harvey, “they’ll continue using it forever.”        

For more info and for seal updates, visit the Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors Facebook page at