Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

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On one of the warmer days in Monterey, we went to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR) to kayak by the seals, southern sea otters and other wildlife.

Warning:  This post contains many photos of adorable sea otters.

Elkhorn Slough  034You can enter the reserve via a harbor located in the fishing village of Moss Landing.  It’s the largest fishing harbor in Monterey Bay and partners with marine research and education to provide full access to the environment.  The fee to park and launch on the beach was $5.00, a cheap date.


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Elkhorn Slough  003The ESNERR harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay.  Some of the goals of the ESNERR include to “better conserve Elkhorn Slough and other estuaries and understand and diminish threats to slough habitats and communities”.

Kayak tours are available there, as well as tours on a pontoon boat with a naturalist narrator.  Hector discovered this wonderful place on a side trip from a business trip, when he took the pontoon boat tour.

Elkhorn Slough  001Elkhorn Slough  007Elkhorn Slough  002But we brought our own kayaks, Caribe and Fuego.  We were so excited!

The wildlife rich area is only about three miles long, so we planned to take our time to really enjoy (and photograph) the marine life.

There was a raft (grouping) of sea otters immediately across from our put in, but Hector nonchalantly said that they were always there and we could check them out on our return.

Then, right around the corner sea lions had taken over a pier.  Literally covering the entire pier and stacked on top of each other.  They were very vocal and loud.Elkhorn Slough  006

Elkhorn Slough  008Elkhorn Slough  028As we continued, there were lots of birds around, primarily pelicans, cormorants, seagulls and a couple of other wading birds such as blue heron.Elkhorn Slough  029

Around the next corner there was another “seal beach” with some seals and pups, some sleeping (in such a cute way), others more active and swimming.Elkhorn Slough  025Elkhorn Slough  026Elkhorn Slough  027

Elkhorn Slough  004Elkhorn Slough  024Elkhorn Slough  009Elkhorn Slough  016After the next bend we found the area where the sea otters congregate.Elkhorn Slough  033Elkhorn Slough  038

Elkhorn Slough  039It’s not a good idea to approach them directly, or get too close, as they can become frightened.  You are supposed to watch them closely, and if you see a change in behavior it’s likely you are too close.  But it’s tempting.Elkhorn Slough  014

Elkhorn Slough  018Most of them were floating belly up on the water, with their big flippers sticking out.  Many were feeding, they balance their food (mostly shellfish) on their bellies and pick up pieces at a time to munch on. Others were grooming with their front paws, their dense fur must be groomed constantly to maintain its insulating properties.

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Elkhorn Slough  023As we approached, some of them went underwater while others just watched us curiously.   But some allowed us to get pretty close as long as we approached slowly from the side, stopped our kayaks and just watched.Elkhorn Slough  012

Elkhorn Slough  011I think these little guys have the most adorable faces, expressions and whiskers.  And I’d never been this close or seen so many of them.

Their numbers have grown after being on the verge of extinction due to hunting for their pelts.  But they are still considered endangered.
Elkhorn Slough  022Elkhorn Slough  013Elkhorn Slough  005We saw a mom holding her little baby on top of her belly.  Precious!  Hector had his long lens so he got some close ups, including some of the momma and baby.

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Others may have had babies as well, but the babies are difficult to make out as their fur blends in with their momma’s belly, and their heads are really tiny.Elkhorn Slough  030

On our return, the wind kicked up (something we’d been warned about), so we got a pretty good workout paddling back.Elkhorn Slough  017

And just as Hector said, the raft of sea otters was still across from where we put in, with a group of kayakers watching.Elkhorn Slough  035

It was tough to leave these critters, this was one of the cutest encounters I’ve had with animals, and I’ve had quite a few.  You can find some more information about southern sea otters here.

~ BrendaElkhorn Slough  021

18 thoughts on “Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

  1. Precious is right! I had never seen sea otters in the wild before, but now I have because it felt like I was right there with you. ; ) You two should write and photograph for National Geographic. You’re both that good! Then you can travel around the world AND get paid for it!!!

  2. What a fabulous wildlife day! Your photos are wonderful. We’ve never seen more than a couple of sea otters at any one time, and have never kayaked with them. This is definitely going on our “must do” list of kayak adventures. Don’t you just love the way they float on their backs, holding their babies close? We’ve also seen them wrap themselves in sea kelp off the Monterey Coast to keep from floating away. So adorable!

    • Watching them float on their backs is what makes it so fun, and the way they hold the babies is so sweet. We read about them wrapping themselves up in kelp before sleeping, but didn’t see it – amazing! I definitely recommend this kayak trip, and you can go longer too, we just had a limited time so we could get back to our dog.

  3. Oh, my…no words!! I am so jealous! I just told John that we must go back to Monterey and kayak with the otters. I love sea otters. Hector’s photos are so wonderful. What adorable faces:) The mom and baby is so cute. Thanks for putting all these photos in the post. Love the seals, too:)

    • So glad you enjoyed! We just love sea otters, too. And the seals too, the way they float vertically is pretty adorable.

  4. Very cute! Sea otters are adorable but can be dangerous up close. They DO fight back I have seen!

    Glad you had a great time!!!


  5. Both of you individually tell the story very capably. Hector, your images need no narrative for me to know the story you are telling. Similarly with you in text Brenda. The combination, though is special! I know it is not your intent, however, I believe there is a way you could monetize this and do it full time. Just a thought.


    • Thanks, Carlos, that means a lot! We shall see, for now Hector is focusing on his new website.
      Take care,

    • Well, the whale watching is pretty magnificent. We hope to kayak near the whales up in the north – we’ll see.

  6. Just in case you are still there, the Sea Harvest Restaurant has really good food, or if not Phil’s could also be an alternative.
    Love those sea otters, we enjoyed watching them every time we visit Moss Landing. And Hectors Otter photography is tops, esp the kissing otters.

    • Thanks, Mona Liza. We love those guys, saw a bunch in Alaska too (on a non-RV trip), but not from this close. Afraid we won’t make the restaurants, we are way behind on the blog, so were not there when we wrote it. I admire you for always being up to date on your blog – how do you do it?

      • Oh Brenda, you are not alone I too are always behind. What ‘s important is that you are having too much fun that being outside beats sitting in front of a computer writing a post. Keep it coming for we the followers are right behind you.

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