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Humboldt Bay
Humboldt Bay - Aerial view of Humboldt Bay and the City of Eureka
Aerial view of Humboldt Bay
and the City of Eureka
Location Humboldt County, California
North Coast
Coordinates 40°45′13.53″N 124°12′54.73″W / 40.7537583°N 124.2152028°W / 40.7537583; -124.2152028Coordinates: 40°45′13.53″N 124°12′54.73″W / 40.7537583°N 124.2152028°W / 40.7537583; -124.2152028
River sources Elk River; Jacoby, Freshwater, and Salmon Creeks.
Ocean/sea sources Pacific
Countries United States
Max. length 14 miles (23 km)
Max. width 4.5 miles (7 km)
Surface area 13 square miles (34 km2)—
25.5 square miles (66 km2)
(17,000 acres)
Max. depth 40 feet
Islands Indian Island, Woodley Island, Daby Island
Settlements Eureka and Arcata

Humboldt Bay is a natural bay[1] and a multi-basin, bar-built coastal lagoon[2] located along the rugged North Coast of California, United States entirely within Humboldt County. The regional center and county seat of Eureka and the college town of Arcata are located adjacent to the bay, which is the second largest enclosed bay in California.[3] In addition to being a seasonal or permanent home to more than 200 bird species and 100 species of fish, the second largest estuary in California is the site of the largest commercial oyster production operation in the state.[4] Harbor facilities include large industrial docks at Samoa and Fields Landing and several marinas located in Eureka which are capable of serving hundreds of small to mid-size boats and pleasure craft. The bay played a vital role in the historic West coast lumber trade as port facilities were used to ship what was thought to be an inexhaustible supply of lumber to US and overseas population centers for generations.



In 1849, an expedition of seven men led by Josiah Gregg attempted to find an overland route to the Pacific ocean. They left from the gold town of Weaverville for the 150 mile trek to the sea. Because of the density of the redwood forests and because Gregg stopped frequently to measure latitude and the size of the trees the expedition averaged only two miles a day. The party was near starvation when they emerged on the coast. After stocking up on food the party walked to San Francisco to report their discovery of the bay. In March 1850 two ships, the General Morgan and the Laura Virginia, were sent to the bay from San Francisco. After considerable initial difficulty due to waves breaking heavily over shifting sands of the bar crossing,[5] the ships entered the bay. The sailors from the Laura Virginia named the bay after Alexander von Humboldt, a famous German naturalist.


Humboldt Bay is the only deep water bay between San Francisco, California and Coos Bay, Oregon and the Port of Humboldt Bay is the only protected deep water port for large ocean-going vessels for the large region. Despite being the only protected harbor along the approximately six hundred miles of coastline, the bay's location was undiscovered or at least unreliably charted for centuries after the first arrival of European explorers to the Pacific Coast. This is partially because it is extremely difficult to see from the ocean. The harbor opens to the sea through a narrow and historically treacherous passage, which was blocked from direct view due to sandbars now managed by jetties. Contributing to its isolation was the coastal mountain range which extends from the ocean approximately one hundred and fifty miles inland.

In the central, most narrow portion of the bay (due north of Eureka), there are three islands: Indian Island, Woodley Island, and Daby Island.

Indian Island previously known as Gunther's Island is the site of National Historic Landmark #67. This is an archaeological dig and one of the sites of the 1860 Wiyot Massacre.



Previous to settlement, and perhaps for years after, the bay was a stable tidal lagoon (in its natural state) despite significant tectonic activity, primarily due to its location in proximity to the Cascadia subduction zone.[6] Features that were lagoonal in nature, including possible occasional seasonal closure of the entrance Bar crossing, already interrupted by European settlers, began experiencing direct management and change. By 1881 the Army Corps of Engineers began dredging bay channels and, subsequently, in 1889 altering and dredging the harbor entrance.[7]

View of the Middle Channel of Humboldt Bay and Indian Island (taken on Woodley Island). Note the Memorial to lost fisherman in the foreground.


Humboldt Bay and its tidal sloughs are open to fishing year-round, and the bay is home to a national wildlife refuge complex for the protection of wetlands and bay habitats for migratory birds. In the winter it is not unusual for the bay to serve as a feeding and resting site for more than one hundred thousand birds. The Humboldt Botanical Garden is now under construction near the Bay, with the intent of preserving its native plants.

Unfortunately, most of the dunes in Humboldt Bay are home to Ammophila arenaria, a non-native beach grass. The California Conservation Corps, with the Bureau of Land Management, work year-round to combat this invasive species.

The bay is a source of subsistence and sport fishing for a variety of salt-water fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. Dungeness Crab are fished commercially, and oysters are commercially farmed in the bay.

The bay itself has been invaded by the European Green Crab, a voracious predator that is known to prey on the young of native crab species, as well as native mussels, oysters, and clams. European Green Crab were first documented in Humboldt Bay in 1995, and have been blamed for a decline in clam harvesting.

Bay settlements

There are at least 20 separately named communities located on the coastal plain that surrounds the bay estuary, though most of these are non-incorporated communities located adjacent to the City of Eureka. The population totals approximately 80,000 on the shore of the bay resulting in the largest coast side population center north of San Francisco in the contiguous United States. Settlements located on or near the bay shore are listed clockwise from the north side of the bay entrance:

  • Fairhaven
  • Samoa
  • Manila
  • Arcata
    • Sunny Brae
    • Bayside
    • Jacoby Creek
  • Eureka
    • Indianola (includes Hidden Valley)
    • Freshwater
    • Myrtletown
    • Cutten
    • Ridgewood
    • Pine Hill
    • Bayview
    • Elk River
    • Humboldt Hill
    • King Salmon
  • Fields Landing
  • Hookton

Bay tributaries and sloughs

Streams and sloughs that enter into Humboldt Bay are listed north to south (in a clockwise fashion) with tributaries entering nearest the bay listed first. The primary streams of major watershed areas east of the bay (draining 250 square miles) are in bold.[8][9][10]

  • Mad River Slough
    • Liscom Slough
  • Janes Creek (enters the bay as McDaniels Slough)
  • Jolly Giant Creek (enters the bay as Butcher Slough)
  • Campbell Creek (partially channeled to Gannon Slough)
  • Fickle Hill Creek
  • Gannon Slough
    • Grotzman Creek
    • Beith Creek
  • Little Jacoby Creek
  • Jacoby Creek
  • Washington Gulch Creek
  • Rocky Gulch Creek
  • Eureka Slough
    • Fay Slough
      • Cochran Creek
    • Freshwater Creek
      • Little Freshwater Creek
    • Ryan Slough
      • Ryan Creek
    • First Slough
    • Second Slough
    • Third Slough
  • Clarke Slough
  • Elk River (California)
    • Swain Slough
      • Martin Slough
  • Willow Brook/White Slough
  • Salmon Creek (Northern Humboldt County)
    • Deering Creek
    • Little Salmon Creek
  • Hookton Slough

See also


  1. ^ Humboldt Bay Management Plan, URL retrieved December 1, 2009
  2. ^ Coastal Inlets Research Program: Humboldt Bay, California Entrance Channel, URL retrieved December 5, 2009
  3. ^ Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, Discover Humboldt Bay, URL retrieved July 14, 2008
  4. ^ Fisheries: State of the Industry Report 2007
  6. ^ Bolinas Lagoon Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Project: Final Public Reports, URL retrieved December 5, 2009.
  7. ^ The Ecology of Humboldt Bay, URL retrieved December 5, 2009.
  8. ^ Klamath Resource Information System (KRIS), KRIS Humboldt Bay, URL retrieved November 11, 2007
  9. ^ Humboldt Bay Harbor District, Wetlands, Streams, Riparian Areas, and Watershed Areas, URL retrieved November 12, 2007
  10. ^ Humboldt Baykeeper, The Geography. Url retrieved September 30, 2008.


External links


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