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San Diegans: 10 things you may not know about your bay

October 13, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

There is so much history behind the San Diego Bay, and so many interesting facts about everything from the architecture to wildlife to the dirt that created the islands.  And, it’s surprising how some people who have lived in San Diego for a while, or even their whole life, don’t know some of these random facts about the bay, which was part of the birth of San Diego.  Here are 10 things you may or may not know about the beautiful San Diego bay.

10) Coronado Island – Coronado Island was first discovered by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in the early 17th century.  However he did not settle here and for almost 200 years the peninsula remained bare.  It wasn’t until 1821 that land grants were issued after whalers had used the island to carry out their work and so had set up hide houses.  In 1977 Hotel del Coronado was opened and became a historic landmark.  Besides rumored to be haunted, the beach off of here is one of the best in San Diego.  If you drive through some of the residential areas you will also find somewhat hidden little spots that take you right to the water and open up to a beautiful view of Downtown San Diego and the bay.

9) Shelter Island – Shelter Island used to be identified on the map as a shoal, or mudbuck.  In the 1930’s a dredging project began, raising Shelter Island 14 feet above low water, and 7 feet above high tide.  A causeway (Shelter Island Drive), was created, connecting the island and mainland together.  America’s Cup Harbor is located to the east side of this island. 

8 ) Harbor Island – In 1961, the U.S. Navy had the main channel of San Diego Bay dredged to deepen the berths for military ships.  Over 12 million cubic yards of sand and mud was used to create this mile and a half long island.  Harbor Island also holds some of the nicest hotels with beautiful views.

7) Ballast Point – Many of the stones on Ballast Point are from ports all around the world.  Skippers would either collect or unload stones for their ballast on their ships, and over time a collection from around the world was gathered.  Many New England streets are lined with stones from Ballast Point. 
-During the whaling period, a whale-rendering plant was built on Ballast Point.
-Today Ballast Point is part of SD Naval Submarine Base, and  a U.S. Coast Guard facility is also located on the island.

Naval Submarine Station

Naval Submarine Station

6) Naval Submarine Station – Located off of Ballast Point, the sub station always catches the attention of passer-byers.  You are usually lucky enough to catch a sub or more sitting in the water.  You have to pass one on the water to really appreciate its size and structure.  The two large walls you will notice with a huge U.S. flag on the side is where they repair the submarines. If you are lucky enough you may see one being worked on.  The walls drop when a submarine needs to be loaded onto the platform, then raised back up for repairs.  This Naval Submarine base was used in the movie “Red October”.  After the attacks of September 11th, the barriers that look like huge black sausage links, were added so that any enemy vessel could not sneak attack from under water.

5) San Diego Bay Wildlife
a) Sea Turtles – The Green Sea Turtles are not believed to have originally resided in San Diego bay.  The story goes that Captain Bogart arrived in San Diego with sea turtles he had captured in Mexico. The sea turtles were kept in pens on the shores of Point Loma with the intention of starting a turtle meat business up.  After some storms that year, about 100 of the sea turtles broke away.  These escapee’s are believed to be the ancestors to the small group of about 30 to 60 sea turtles that live in the bay now.  It’s believed that the sea turtles first spotted in San Diego in the 1850’s migrated from Mexico.  Either way the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle is considered endangered throughout its range.
b) Giant Pacific Seahorse – the seahorse that resides in the San Diego Bay is one of the largest in the world, reaching a length of up to 12 inches.  They can be found all the way to Peru.  They are in constant risk from overfishing and habitat destruction.  Currently, they are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
c) California Sea Lion – All over the bay on buoys or swimming around you’ll notice the California Sea Lion.  Their favorite spot to hangout however are the bait docks owned and operated by Everingham Bros. Bait Co. since 1951.  Shore birds and sea lions hang out around the docks hoping to get a free meal.  The bait docks are always covered with these animals, and is the best place to get a look at them up close. 

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

d) Brown Pelican – Adult brown pelicans are a large dark gray-brown water bird with a white head and neck, and their wingspan ranges from, 6 to over 8 feet long.  Watching one of these birds or even better- a flock, take flight, is a beautiful sight.  They are listed as endangered and their population was almost decimated twice in the U.S. by pesticides such as DDT and related compounds.  The DDT would weaken egg shells, so when mothers went to incubate their eggs, they would end up crushing them.  Reproducing young became difficult and almost killed the species.  Populations are still vulnerable to chemical and pesticide pollution today. 
e) Of course there are hundreds of other species that also reside in the bay as well.

4) The Gray Whale – Every year between December and April, the gray whale graces San Diego with its presence as it makes its migration to and from their breeding grounds in the Baja lagoons of Mexico.  Before near extinction and industry expansion, the whales used to swim right into the bay as part of their route.  After whaling nearly killed their species twice, and after pollution from the growing city affected the water, they moved their route out a little  further from shore.  It’s not uncommon during whale watching season to catch a juvenile playing in the kelp beds in the bay.  In fact earlier this year one found the bay to be a comfortable place to stay for a few days.  Biologists almost had to try and chase it out to sea because the precaution levels within the bay started to become inconvenient for ships.  Whale watching is one of the biggest tourist attractions in San Diego every year.

3) Lindbergh Field – The San Diego International Airport is the 30th busiest airport in the country as far as passengers goes, but the busiest single runway commercial airport in the nation.  There are an average of 600 departures and arrivals a day!  Before becoming a runway, it was a mud flat that was often covered by water during high tide.  After funds in 1927, the bay north of B Street Pier was deepened.  The dredged material was used to cover 142 acres of tidelands.  This became Lindbergh Field.

Tom Ham's Lighthouse & Restaurant

Tom Ham's Lighthouse & Restaurant

Tom Ham’s Lighthouse Restaurant– On the west end of Harbor Island you’ll come across Tom Ham’s Lighthouse and Restaurant.  Why is it both?  Well Tom Ham wanted to make a restaurant but the Coast Guard wanted a lighthouse.  They came to a compromise and made it both.  Beacon #9 is a fully functioning lighthouse, and is one of two sanctioned by the Coast Guard on the bay.
Point Loma Lighthouses – Atop the hill/cliff at the point of Point Loma, there is a lighthouse.  However this one is not used anymore.  This lighthouse was too high up to do any good for ships coming into the bay during especially foggy nights.  So, the lighthouse now found at the bottom of the cliff at the very tip of Point Loma, was built, and the lens from the original Point Loma lighthouse, was actually used for this newer one.

1) John Wayne Jetty – The jetty on the East side channel, meant to reshape the bay entrance, is named after John Wayne himself.  Why?  John Wayne took his boat out to sea, and one night upon coming back from a fishing trip to Mexico, did not realize that the high tide was covering the jetty, and he rode his ship aground on it.  But if that wasn’t enough to earn the title, upon another trip back from sea, he crashed into the jetty upon high tide yet again, in nearly the  same spot.  So after two times of doing this, they felt is necessary to name the jetty after him. (The rock jetty is actually called the Zuniga Jetty).


Any references used include The Birch Aquarium 2008-2009 Whale Watching Program Training Handbook

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