Blog Readers Demand To Know—Dolphins In Houston’s Buffalo Bayou
I got a search engine hit on the blog today from someone looking to know about dolphins in Buffalo Bayou in Houston. Caring deeply about my public, I investigated this matter.
I asked Dr. Feagin if I could use what he had written. He said yes and was nice enough to add a bit more. I’ve included what he added at the bottom.
The above photo is of where Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou meet. This is where Dr. Feagin once saw a dolphin.
Here is a link to Dr. Feagin’s Coastal Ecology Lab. I bet you learn a lot in that lab.
Here is what he wrote—I used to work on Buffalo Bayou, driving a boat up and down the “bayuco” as several of us called it in Spanish. I’m not sure I would characterize Buffalo Bayou as a tributary of the San Jacinto, they may connect at some point, but they are more of an estuary at that point in my opinion (in fact, doesn’t this happen below the ship channel?).
In fact, much of Buffalo Bayou is tidal. Spartina alterniflora, the salt marsh plant in the low-tidal zone, seems to cut off upstream of the connection with the San Jacinto, up closer to around Jensen/Runnels street. I’m not sure if that’s due to the change in salinity or the abrupt change in topography there (from more flat estuarine-like along the edges to a deeper, narrow channel)
Further up the bayou, I have witnessed a dolphin at the intersection of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou, as several newspapers described back in the 90’s; there are certainly small alligators and big fish as far upstream as it goes. FYI, there’s also a lot of submerged junk there, too.
There is flow to Buffalo Bayou, it is regulated by a dam up near Addick’s Reserviour, they can make it fast enough to make canoe races entertaining as evidenced by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s annual race. I don’t know of any spring-fed flow, I would find that very strange for this bayou in particular. Ground water certainly is a major contributor from adjacent urban areas, and major rains can cause a massive fish kill, I have an old picture of one if anyone’s interested. I don’t know the name, but some folks at the University of Houston – Downtown have done a little work on that.
One can see evidence of flow from floods in the trees: there are characteristic water lines formed by trash hanging from the high points among the branches.I would say that historically, Buffalo Bayou probably drained the Katy Prairie, which should be somewhat more wet than it is today. Today, it drains Addick’s. Also, the areas adjacent to the Bayou were and are drained as well.
In conclusion, there is flow generally towards Galveston Bay, but sometimes it reverses due to high tides and southeast winds, particularly in the summer. Thus, it is a brackish connection between the fresh upper reaches, and the lower saline/brackish estuary.
Dr. Feagin adds— By the way, when we saw the dolphin it was around March-June 1998 (if I had to guess I would say April, maybe May), some others also had seen it several days earlier and it was their sighting that was reported in the Chronicle.There’s also alligators there, we never saw any bigger than maybe 5 feet- they were mostly upstream from the aforementioned confluence of Buffalo/White Bayous.
There’s tons of big fish up there, it should be great fishing, but I would be scared to eat them. Lots of the homeless guys fish and I once saw a guy spearfishing with a cross-bow there, too. I would imagine that with all those fish, it might be interesting to dolphins, and I know they love to go around the ships, boats, human constructed stuff, etc. so a little migration from the ship channel further upstream is not too crazy.