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Point 5 - Wharf Ecological Calendar, Wildlife & Historic Wharves

Move your mouse over the numbers on the map for a brief description and click to go there.

Here we have our celebration of the year 2000 Wharf ecological calendar. It's intended to show a number of natural phenomenon recurring by season. There are animal migrations and physical forces like major currents and the solstices and equinoxes depicted at a glance.

Point 5

It really only scratches the surface of what occurs, but it shows the most visible and noticeable things that happen in the region of the Wharf and Monterey Bay. Gray whale migration begins in January, while Humpbacks appear in the area as well as blue whales over the deep submarine canyon in summer.

One can see the seasons changing by the appearance of seabirds and shorebirds. Two kinds of "sea ducks" virtually change places in winter and summer: surf scoters appear in late fall and winter soon after pigeon guillemots have left. When the guillemots return, the scoters leave.

Steelhead enter the coastal streams with the arrival of winter storms. A variety of fish species appear with the churning of primary productivity induced by coastal upwelling. This, in turn, is induced by the spring wind-driven California Current.

The calendar was a collaborative effort of by Jimmy L. Cabading, a resident artist that creates his images with a computer and Michael Harris, who did the research and arranged the schematic.

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Gray Whales
In the kiosk there is a photo of a gray whale seen breaching last year in our cove. Gray whales make the longest migration of all whales, or cetaceans, in the world. They go from the Bering Sea in Alaska to the lagoons of Baja, Mexico every year. They start heading south in December and January and are generally in a hurry. On the southern leg of their journey, they don't often come in close to shore here but travel straight across the Bay out some 10-20 miles. On the return trip though, from March through May and even June, they will take their time and linger in Bays and over shallow sandy bottoms.

On this occasion, this young whale (about 30 feet long) was traveling with two adults (about 50 feet long) It started getting curious about what was above water and began sticking his or her head above the surface a number of times. Then it leapt in the air three times in a row. This was the best shot. Young gray whales are darker than the adults. Gray whales scoop up big mouthfuls of sand and sift it through their baleen teeth. Amphipods and barnacles latch on and get a ride for life. That's why adult gray whales have such a crusty covering all over their bodies. They are also known as having the largest parasite load of any whale .

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Sea Lions On Boat
California sea lions like to haul out on rocks to rest and clown around. If there are no rocks handy, they will pick out buoys or even boats. Some boats are easier for them than others. This was a sailboat with wide strong decks that these sea lions adopted a few years ago. At times there were half a dozen big males on the thing and it seemed like it would tip over and sink, but never did. Sometimes they do sink boats. We have a lot of sea lions that have adopted the end of the wharf as a hauling out spot. We'll see them in a minute.

We have another pinniped that people can confuse with sea lions. Those are harbor seals. Both are in this area. Pinniped means "winged feet" in Latin. Sea lions have separated and rotatable rear flippers that they can use like feet. They also have large front flippers that they use like wings to travel through the water. They can travel quite fast; able to chase down fish. The harbor seals don't have the rotatable flipper arrangement and their forward flippers are much shorter and stiffer. When harbor seals haul out, they wriggle over land more than walk over it.

Another way to tell them apart is by their ears. Sea lions have external ear flaps and harbor seals do not. The adult male sea lions will develop a big knob on their foreheads, or "sagital crest."

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Marine Mammals In General
There are 22 species of marine mammals in this area and the Marine Sanctuary. Marine mammals are lines of creatures that were originally fishes, developed lung sacks in oceanic marshes during the Devonian period and gave rise to land mammals. Some of these returned to the sea sometime later. The different lines of marine mammals, the cetaceans, the pinnepeds, and the mustilidae, or otters, all returned to the sea at different periods.

The earliest to return to the sea were the cetaceans. Their morphology, or body structure, is radically different than ours when it comes to breathing and eating. In the cetaceans, which are all the large whales and smaller dolphins, the body chambers and channels for breathing and eating are entirely separate. The mouth area channel goes only to the stomach. The breathing channel goes only to the lungs and the breathing channel, or blowhole, has migrated on their bodies to be at the top of their heads. In the pinnepeds and the otters, the mouth, throat, lungs, and stomach are all connected, just as it is in humans. When you drink or eat something and choke on it, we say "it was going down the wrong tube," which is true. In a cetacean, this could never happen. The tubes are separated from each other.

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Other Side of Kiosk
In the kiosk here are some historic pictures of the different wharves over the decades. As I mentioned, this wharf is the fifth one. The very first one was made to load sacks of potatoes and lime onto boats to go to San Francisco.

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The Potato Wharf
This really wasn't much of a wharf at all, since it consisted mainly of a wood plank chute that extended from the end of Bay Street, across Cowell Beach and into the water. During the Gold Rush, there was a severe shortage of potatoes in San Francisco and in the gold mining camps, so Eli Anthony took advantage of the business opportunity by constructing this first wharf. During its time thousands of sacks of potatoes tumbled down the chute to be loaded on waiting rowboats, which then transported the spuds to large sailing ships anchored in deeper water.

Those boom times for potatoes lasted only four years before the market crashed. But cities were growing, and they needed lime for cement. In 1857, Davis and Jordan purchased the Potato Wharf and used it to ship barrels of lime, which was mined primarily from a quarry on the present UCSC campus. With the advent of the Civil War, gunpowder became a moneymaking commodity. The California Powder Works shipped its product via the wharf to the eastern United States, where it ended up in much of the war's artillery. Some remains of the company's original structures still can be found on the Gray Whale Ranch. By 1867, a local rancher named Henry Cowell purchased the wharf for $100,000 -- or more than a million dollars by today's reckoning. Cowell's company continued the practice of shipping lime from the wharf until the structure was destroyed by a storm on December 31, 1907, at the age of 60. Over time, the remaining pilings were gradually washed to sea until last one was taken by a storm in 1944.

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The Railroad Wharf
In 1857, while the Potato Wharf was still in use, David Gharkey built himself a wharf to accommodate the railroad. It became a terminal for Santa Cruz-Felton narrow gauge railroad in 1875, with tracks running out over the pier, located just east of the present wharf. Later it was used by the Southern Coast Pacific Railroad and then by the Southern Pacific Company. During its 57-year lifetime, the Railroad Wharf was employed to ship millions of board feet of local redwood lumber and hundreds of thousands of tons of fish. Its demise was brought on by the arrival of the present day wharf. But that's getting ahead of the story.

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The Powder Mill Wharf
This was the third wharf to be constructed, and it was located to the east, where Main Street meets the beach. That was in 1865, just at the end of the Civil War. Twelve years later, a connection was built between this wharf and the Railroad Wharf, but that lasted only until 1882, when the South Pacific Coast Railroad removed the link. By 1890, the California Powder Works abandoned its structure, making it the shortest-lived of the Santa Cruz wharves -- only 25 years in use. The last of its pilings were seen at low tide in 1900.

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The Pleasure Pier
Though it wasn't used for the heavy operations of previous wharves, the Pleasure Pier is fondly remembered as an important part of the Boardwalk adventure. This structure was built in 1906 so passengers could be carried on the Sinaola -- the first of several commercial speedboats on Monterey Bay. The pier also carried water lines for the Plunge, an indoor saltwater swimming pool housed where we now play miniature golf. If you look carefully around the golf course, you can still see the drain gutters! When the Plunge closed in 1960, the Pleasure Pier went with it.

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The Santa Cruz Wharf
When the present-day wharf was constructed in 1914, the Railroad Wharf was already 58 years old and suffering from exposure to the elements. The owners of the aging wharf were asked to make repairs, but when they refused, the city decided it was time to build its own. After all, the waters off Cowell's Beach were filling with silt and becoming shallower, so larger ships could no longer dock closer to shore. Fearing a loss of shipping trade, the City Council ruled that it would finance a new wharf that could meet the commercial needs of the day. Citizens approved a bond issue in the amount of $172,000 to build the wharf, one of California's finest. It included no shops or restaurants -- only a railroad track, a warehouse, some lockers, and other necessities for ocean trade. But with the success of this new wharf, the old Railroad ceased operation and was finally demolished, leaving only the present-day wharf to serve our city.

Let's continue on.

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Last updated: 6/30/2009 4:47:55 PM