Stop 11: Monterey Bay, part 3

… in which i squeeee and share pictures of massive cuteness.  Er, I mean, give a lesson on endangered species.

After a full day of whale watching and aquarium touring, we enjoyed sleeping in on the morning of June 27th. When we woke up, I spent some time working on blogging and the boys enjoyed a little TV time (which had been very rare on the trip so far). When we were done being lazy, we drove a few miles north to Moss Landing. We are big fans of kayaking and have had some really great experiences with our kayaks, but we decided against bringing them with us on this trip (too many miles and not enough space). Nonetheless, I wanted to experience some kayaking in California, so we decided to rent yaks for a few hours. After some research, we opted for the more natural Elkhorn Slough, rather than trying to navigate the harbor in Monterey.

Elkhorn Slough is a protected estuary (a National Estuarine Research Reserve) that has a large population of a threatened species, the Southern Sea Otter, as well as lots of sea lions, harbor seals and birds. We arrived and got our gear ready. We decided we would rent two tandem sea kayaks, even though that is not what we are used to paddling (we have three sit-inside kayaks and Kieran rides along with David or me). This time Kieran had a chance to assist in the paddling, which he loved, of course!  Evan and I had one boat and David and Kieran shared the other.

We got on the water and immediately noticed there were sea lions hanging around the beach where the extra kayaks were sitting. I was a bit unsure of myself with a new boat and having to share control of it with Evan, so it took me a while to get up the courage to pull the expensive camera gear out of my dry bag. Luckily David had his camera up and running right away.

Kieran, the power plant, and the entrance to Elkhorn Slough, photo by David Kern

As Evan and I got to the bridge to go into the estuary, we heard an extremely loud *crack* sound. We looked over just in time to see an otter cracking open an oyster with a rock. I still didn’t have the good camera out, so I didn’t get any shots, but it was amazing to see them doing that behavior in the wild. We watched him hold the oyster in his paws and eat it before diving down for seconds. So cool! I finally gave in and decided to get the good camera out of its safe hiding place and take my chances. But I was also trying to wrangle the GoPro as well. I was really hoping to get some action shots of the otters swimming around us, but it never happened. Once we got past the bridge we noticed a couple of otters swimming not too far away. When I got out the camera I found that it was two mothers with pups.

This pup was happy to see us. Check out those canine teeth!

Here’s another pic of the happy pup and momma.

Momma was checking us out

As we got further in, we found a beach where the sea lions and seals were sunning themselves while being supervised by a bunch of pelicans.

The beach

As we headed further into the estuary, we noticed a large group of otters who were floating together, wrapped up in the kelp. As we got closer, we realized it was more moms and pups.

Otter families

Here are a couple more. I just can’t resist adding more pictures of these guys.

Could this face be any happier??

A blondie

We were not very close to them, but at one point, they started taking notice of us, and we decided we should leave them alone. Knowing that the Southern Sea Otter is threatened in part due to its low biotic potential (slow birth rate, etc.), I found it really encouraging to see all the mothers with pups. I do hope their population can recover from the damage the fur hunters of the past have done.

Turning south, we saw a blue heron and a pelican searching the water for some food.

Pelican

 

Heron

We were getting a little tired at this point, and we had to fight the wind on the way out, so we turned around, planning to get another glimpse of the seal beach. we enjoyed watching them interacting with each other, and they paid absolutely no attention to us.

 

Seals and cormorants

OK, a few looked up to check us out. And a couple of young ones seemed to be asking their parents permission to go swimming with us. The parents didn’t seem interested in getting back in the cool water though.

What's up guys?

Here is a little conversation from a youngster and his elders:

Come and swim with me, Momma!

Back under the bridge, we saw a few more otters hunting shellfish, but didn’t get a good picture. Then we went past a dock with lots of sea lions and one otter sleeping, grooming themselves, and or playing king of the hill.

Sea lion pile

I was amazed at how the dock floated up and down in the waves, submerging the sea lions’ faces intermittently. They just didn’t seem to mind! One more shot of these guys and then we’ll head south down the California coast in search of more geology.

I'm pretty sure they're sleeping and not dead!

Some day I’ll add some video from this little trip, but we had some issues with files that had to be recovered.

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