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.
You 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.
The 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.
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.
It’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.
Most 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.
As 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.
Their numbers have grown after being on the verge of extinction due to hunting for their pelts. But they are still considered endangered.
We 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.
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.