Anatomy of the bay: 7 bites of San Francisco bay history, science, and lore
July 6, 2016
No comments yet
The bay is awash in rumor of what lies beneath, from visions of Jaws to leftoversof failed prison escapees. But what's really down there, and what are you swimming over, around, and in?
Buckle up. We're going to takea thrillride through the bay's fascinating, hilarious, and sometimes macabrefacets.
1. The bay really ISfull of sharks... just not THAT kind of shark.
You pictured Jaws, didn't you? Look at these chubby-mouthed noodly sharkies. They'repretty much the teddy bears of the sea. Okay maybe not teddy bears, but admit it,you kind of want to cuddle one compared to their more toothy cousins. They certainly have no interest insampling swimmer a la carte.
The Leopard Shark is the bay's most commonshark. This pretty guygrows up to 5ft and muncheson worms, crabs, clams, and small fish in shallow water, and uses the bay as a nursery.
Supernoodly Spiny Dogfish (a.k.a. spurdog, mud shark, or piked dogfish) barely hit 4ft longand hang around in winter. They can live up to 100 years, and may be preggo the longest: 18-24 months!
10ft broadnose sevengills give birthin the bay during spring &summer. They chill outnear the Golden Gate and Alcatraz, cruising along the sea floor snacking on small animals, rarely surfacing.
2. The bayis actually only as deep as a swimming pool.
Click the image on the left to enlarge.
That's right. The average depth of the bay is about 12-15 feet deep. Heck, between Hayward and San Mateo to San Jose it averages 12 to 36 inches. So much for that bridge!
With that said though, the water surrounding Alcatraz is on the deeper end of the scale, but still, it's just an average depth of 43 feet.The average depth at Aquatic Park where we swim every week? 3-6 feet (still deeper than under the San Mateo-Hayward bridge!).
Want to swim over the deepest part of the bay? Maybe you've already done it and had no idea - you'll find the deepest water in our Golden Gate Bridge race just under the bridge at over 370feet.
Got goosebumps? 🙂
3. Talk about a watery grave:Aquatic Park'scalmer waters are thanks to tombstones.
By 1900, SanFrancisco's cemeteries had already filled to capacity. Residentsfearful ofdisease and developers desperate for land began getting their way:fresh burials in the city became illegal in 1902 and by1941, nearly all the cemeteries were gone and the bodies of long forgotten miners and immigrants from the city's wild west dayshad beenmoved to mass graves in a necropolis theycalled Colma. (Colma, as you know, still exists - and the dead outnumber the living there a thousand to one.)
Their thousands of unclaimed tombstones, however, live on.
They were put in the city's rubble pile, to be used in building projects in the growing city. Manyended up being used in breakwaters in the Marina District, as path liners at Buena Vista Park, and at Aquatic Park, where the stones can still be foundat low tide during our weekly Swim With Pedro sessions. Andrecently, a cache of old stones wasused to constructthe Wave Organ near the St. Francis Yacht Club - where many family members and friends of swimmers have watched Alcatraz races to St. Francis.
4.Shag, Arch, Blossom, and Harding all lie at the bottom of the bay.
Click the image on the rightto enlarge.
No, those aren't theold residents of the tombstones- they'rerocks! The bottom of the bay has been shaped not just by nature, but by human design as well. The rocks have all been blown up- most notablyArch in 1901, because it once stuck out of the water at low tide, creatinga portal through which boaters sometimes tried to slip for kicks- just not always successfully.
All are part of what is thought to be the same submerged, primordial mountain ridge, and have been demolished to about a depth of 40 feet.But they stillpose challenges to big tankers coming through the bay. Big ships keep gettingbigger, and are more likely to scrape along the bay's bottom. So shipping lanes have literally been carvedinto the sea floor like tracks for cable cars, and the excavated silt was dumped south of Alcatraz, wherethere used to be a pretty scary 200ft-deep hole.
The channels have had to be dredgedso much to maintain them that the silt is now movedout to sea, becausethe hole that was south ofAlcatraz is actually now a hill.
5.The City of Chester also lies at the bottom of the bay.
Okay... so not a city. The City of Chester was a passenger steamship that left San Francisco and collided in dense fog with the RMS Oceanic arriving from Asia.The shipwas carrying 90 people to Eureka, California, on August 22, 1888, when it sank within six minutes and 16 people were killed.
Now it sits upright in the mud 216 feet under the water nearthe Golden Gate Bridge, so you likely swamover it during a Bridge to Bridge 10K race. It was rediscovered in 2014 while researchers were actually looking for a different shipwreck from 1952 in the same area.
There are about 200 shipwrecks in the San Francisco Bay Area, but a lot of them have been lifted out and auctioned.
6. Speakingof ships - there's a bunch buried under the Embarcadero and the Financial District.
Click the image to the rightto enlarge.
Okay, get ready for this.During the Gold Rush, ships were ol' timeyUber, and over 500 anchored near Yerba Buena cove by summer of 1850. Whole crews not just parked but totally abandoned their ships as they head to gold country. Many ships rotted, were dismantled, orrepurposed as saloons, hotels, and even jails.
By 1851, wharves extended out into the cove and buildings were evenerected on piles near them. Over the next two decades, Yerba Buena Cove - and the ships in it - was filled with sand from developing downtown. The cove was eventually enclosed by a seawall,built from 1867 to 1869, and followed roughly the same path as today'sEmbarcadero.
So while you may not have swum over any of those... you might have walked over or taken BART through one.
7.It may be good for shipping and swimming, but the bay is first and foremost one of California's most important ecosystems.
Dungeness crab, California Halibut, and Pacific Salmon rely on the bay as nurseries. The remaining salt marshes support endangered species and filter sediment and pollutants. Migratory birds use the bay as a key pit stop on their journeys. The growing health of the bay has meant the recent return of the harbor porpoise, a super cute dolphin cousin, who ditched the bay for 65 years because we trashed it. (It's so cute, please consider supporting Baykeeper, clean up the bay even more, and let's get more of these little dudes in here.)
In fact, before you made your way into the bay, it even probably made its way into you. Salt produced in the bayisshipped throughout the western USto bakeries, canneries, fisheries, cheese makers and other food industries and is used to do everything from de-icing winter highways tocleaning kidney dialysis machines.
Thanks, bay. Thank you so much.
We share the bay with smallcartoonsharks and old shipwrecks, swim over shipping lanes and tombstones, driveover ship graveyards and bay salted highways. It's a pretty cool place and one we are lucky to train and race in. What are your favorite things about the bay?
Support Baykeeper's stellar work in the bay
Baykeeper hasn'tasked us for this plug. We're doing it because of the work they do to protect the bay's health and ecosystem, and keep it a beautiful place for wildlife and swimmers alike. The San Francisco bay-delta estuary and its watershed provide drinking water for 23 million people, salt for all kinds of purposes, and serveas a cornerstone of California's monumental economy.
So yeah, it's not just an incredible race course. Donate to Baykeeper today!
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.