Kayaking in the Sanctuary
A kayaking trip in the sanctuary can provide lasting memories and is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Teeming with wildlife, the sanctuary's kelp forests and placid wetlands (Elkhorn Slough) are ideal places to paddle. If you float quietly and look closely, you may see crabs, jellies or other small animals. Brown pelicans, cormorants, loons, grebes and other fish-eating birds are commonly seen diving for prey and huge numbers of shorebirds stopover in the slough during migration. You are also very likely to see seals, sea lions or sea otters. During your exploration, please remember the animals you encounter are easily frightened. Enjoy them from a distance! Also look for our "Team OCEAN" volunteers in sanctuary kayaks who will help you learn more about wildlife.
Wildlife Viewing Tips
Although it may be tempting to approach marine mammals and birds for a closer look, these are protected, wild animals. It is against federal law to disturb them or cause them to change their behavior. For your sake and theirs:
- Observe from a distance! You are too close if an animal starts to stare, fidget or flee. Slowly and quietly back away. Stay at least feet or 46 meters away, whether they are in the water, on rocks or the shoreline.
- Watch quietly. Rest is important (especially for seal and sea otter moms and pups) and you'll see more of their natural behaviors.
- Stay away from animals that appear sick, injured or abandoned. Some animals beach themselves on purpose to rest. Mother seals often leave pups behind while feeding offshore. Even a lone pup is probably not abandoned!
- Don't feed wildlife. Human food can attract them and make them sick, a potentially dangerous situation for all.
- Report sick or injured marine mammals to the Marine Mammal Center
- San Francisco Bay area: ()
- Monterey or Santa Cruz: ()
- San Luis Obispo County: ()
- Report animal disturbance to NOAA Office for Law Enforcement
- Sanctuary Enforcement: ()
- Hotline (24 hours/day): ()
Keep Sanctuary Waters Clean
Animals can get entangled in marine debris or mistake it for food. Please stow your trash for disposal in port and pick up any floating trash you see.
Consider the skill limits of your group. Plan your routes and be aware of changing weather. You may encounter fog, wind, strong currents and large surf. Check with local kayak shops for current ocean conditions. Suggested safety equipment includes a lifejacket, pump, paddle float, wet-quit, flotation bags for decked boats, and a safety kit.
Kayak Access Points
Check out information about popular launching sites.
The Sanctuary's Team OCEAN program trains knowledgeable volunteers to kayak in Elkhorn Slough and along the kelp beds off Cannery Row in Monterey. These volunteer docents greet other kayakers and share information about natural history and respectful wildlife viewing. See the Team OCEAN web page for more information.
MOSS LANDING After six months of relative peace in the waters off the Central Coast, sea otters are being threatened by the return of the weekend boating and water recreation crowds.
While many activities are still restricted due to COVID, fishing, kayaking and paddle boarding are not. Seeking respite from a summer of lockdown, tourists have been flocking to the coast. Since the reopening of marine recreation businesses in late May, the waters off places such as Moss Landing and Cannery Row have become busy again. This is putting a strain on the local wildlife, especially for Monterey’s favorite furry friends.
“Sea otters, among marine mammals, are especially vulnerable to human disturbance,” said Gena Bentall, director and senior scientist with Sea Otter Savvy. “What we’re talking about in this case is mainly recreational activities where people get too close.”
Sea otters may be North America’s smallest marine mammal, but they play a huge role in the coastal ecosystems they call home. By eating sea urchins in kelp forests and crabs in estuaries, sea otters help keep these ecosystems in balance. Because of the critical and outsized influence, they have on their environments, sea otters are considered a keystone species. Sea Otter Savvy calls them ecosystem superheroes.
Tracking sea otters
Since , Sea Otter Savvy has had a team of volunteer community scientists collecting data at seven different sites along the Central Coast, but the pandemic has put that on pause.
“We have been in suspended animation since March, as so many people have, because our teams are voluntary and they haven’t been able to go out due to the COVID situation,” said Bentall.
With no hard data to go by, Bentall and her team have been relying on time-lapse videos of the waterways and anecdotal evidence like phone calls from concerned bystanders.
(View a time-lapse video of change in traffic in Elkhorn Slough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nG1zWsV9wfw&feature=youtu.be)
“I was getting daily reports from the public, people going crazy on jetskis – it was essentially mayhem,” said Bentall of the scene at Elkhorn Slough on a typical pandemic weekend.
All over the country, kayak and paddleboard shops are seeing record sales. In Monterey, where marine recreation businesses began reopening in late May, paddle shops, like Monterey Bay Kayaks, have been consistently selling out of rentals and equipment.
“We’re getting a lot of people who normally might not be going kayaking,” said Cass Schrock, owner of Monterey Bay Kayaks. Customers have “heard about the sea otters at Elkhorn Slough but really don’t know anything about the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. We’ve got a whole new demographic we’re dealing with People are definitely looking for something to do.”
At shops that are doing rentals, employees are working hard to teach people to be mindful of wildlife. “We’re doing a lot more education,” said Schrock. “We have information on our website, waivers we send beforehand that say ‘I will not get close to the sea otters or harass them,’ that kind of thing. When they check-in and do our orientation in person, we also cover, among safety factors, how to approach sea otters and watch their behavior. And then, of course, there’s signage everywhere.”
That being said, “a few people do still sneak by,” and if they’re caught harassing federally-protected otters, Schrock has no qualms about reporting them to the authorities.
There are also issues with private boaters, Schrock said – “people who bring their own boats, don’t check in with us, don’t look at the signs.” Monterey Bay Kayaks is working with Sea Otter Savvy and other organizations to fill in the education gap so that everyone on the water knows how to respectfully share the space.
Many local paddle shops like Monterey Bay Kayaks are certified through Sea Otter Savvy’s Community Active Wildlife Stewards program, designed to educate the public and encourage responsible behavior around wildlife. “But at a certain point,” said Bentall, “it doesn’t matter how good the training is if there’s no room to keep a distance.”
Keeping your distance
People often paddle out in places like Elkhorn Slough because they love otters, said Bentall, so if they don’t know any better, they often get too close. While getting close to an actively foraging otter is a stressful disturbance for the animal, what’s worse is when people wake them. Energetically speaking, sea otters live paycheck to paycheck.
“Sea otters are just really special in that regard,” said Andy Johnson, a California representative with Defenders of Wildlife. “There’s such a fine line in their ability to take in enough energy. They’ve got to rest a lot, they have to keep their fur in shape, they’ve got to eat a lot. Those extra disturbances tend to push them into a deficit that they sometimes can’t recover from.”
Unlike other marine mammals, sea otters lack a blubber layer, which means they have to use up significant energy just to stay warm. Resting allows them to conserve just enough energy to forage for food later, which in turn will give them just enough energy to do that again the next day.
Disturbances can be especially harmful in hotspots like Cannery Row whose population is near carrying capacity. That means there are just enough resources to support the current population. Because otters are their own biggest competition for food, emaciation is a real danger. This is even more true for female sea otters, as seen in a recent study in which more than 50% of females necropsied had signs of emaciation.
“It’s great to get out, we need to get out, but we really need to view wildlife responsibly,” said Johnson. The key areas of paddlers overlapping otters are Moss Landing, Elkhorn Slough and off Cannery Row. In these hotspots, said Johnson, there are “omnipresent opportunities for disturbance.”
Luckily, there are ways to paddle responsibly. Detailed guidelines can be found on Sea Otter Savvy’s website, but the key idea is to give otters space.
“When you watch the same otter every day, it really starts to be apparent how individual they are,” said Bentall. “They definitely have very distinct personalities that you can easily recognize even from afar. They have different ways of being parents, mothers, more social animals and more introverted-seeming animals. They’re individuals just like human beings.”
The 6 best places to spot sea otters off the California coast
About that rock: Sea otters often float around on their backs, sometimes even sleeping, sometimes cruising, with rocks on their chests. Sea otters will use the rocks to break open sea urchins and other food.
Naptime: Sea lions, often rafts of them, can spend a lot of time hauled out on rocks and tidal flats, sleeping in the sun. The reason is that a sea lion's circulatory system does not keep their flippers warm. So they often haul out to warm their flippers in the sun.
1. Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing
bridge and into the Elkhorn Slough estuary. Otters are common on the far right (south shore). When the tide turns, ride the outgoing tide, with the best sightings on the north shore, back to the bridge. Guided wildlife trips are available on pontoon boats.
Getting there: GPS location: Highway 1, Moss Landing. Contacts: Kayak Connection, rentals, , www.kayakconnection.com; Elkhorn Slough Safari, pontoon boat tours, , www.elkhornslough.com; Blue Water Ventures, guided kayak tours, , www.bluewaterventures.org
2. North Jetty, Moss Landing
If you want to remain planted on terra firma and sight otters without a paddle or hike, the North Jetty is the best spot. As you drive in (from the north) to Moss Landing, turn right on Jetty Road and continue a mile to its end. The jetty borders an arm of Elkhorn Slough to your left and the entrance channel of Moss Landing Harbor is just ahead. Several otters hang out in the nearby vicinity, along with high numbers of shorebirds and the occasional harbor seal and sea lions. To take it all in, bring your binoculars, spotting scope and camera with long lens.
Getting there: GPS location: Jetty Road, Moss Landing. No contact.
More on Monterey
3. Stillwater Cove, Pebble Beach
Outside of locals, many do not realize there is a public access trail that leads to gorgeous Stillwater Cove adjacent to the Pebble Beach Golf Links. This cove is drop-dead beautiful, sprinkled with kelp, peppered with outcrops and edged by white-sand beach to the south where the water often just laps at the shore. The sheltered cove is perfect for stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. In the process, it’s also common to sight otters near the edge of the kelp. To get there, take the Mile Drive into Pebble (you pass through a kiosk) and then continue to public parking along Cypress Drive adjacent to the Beach & Tennis Club. A path leads past the third hole to the Beach Club and public access.
Getting there: GPS location: Cypress Drive, Pebble Beach (gated entrance). Contact: Pebble Beach, www.PebbleBeach.com; Adventures by the Sea (kayak and standup paddleboard rentals for Stillwater Cove), http://adventuresbythesea.com
4. Point Lobos, Carmel
Timing can be a key at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. On weekends, tourists cruising Highway 1 can line up and fill parking. On weekdays, mornings and evenings, you can often have this paradise to yourself. Take your time and explore the overlooks into the coves, one by one. The best areas for sea otters are on the wind-shielded south side of the reserve. The best prospects are on the Bird Island Trail to beautiful China Cove. It can also be good on the South Shore Trail where you peer across Sand Hill Cove, off Weston Beach and Hidden Beach. On the north side of the reserve, take the Cypress Grove Trail, with fair prospects (usually solos) at Cypress Cove and Big Dome Cove. Whalers’ Cove looks perfect, but otter sightings are always a wild card here.
Getting there: GPS location: 62 Highway 1, Carmel-by-the-Sea; contact: Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, , www.parks.ca.gov
5. Castle Rock Viewpoint, Big Sur
This is one of the most famous lookouts on Highway 1. From Carmel, as you drive south, look for the spur to parking (diagonal slots for about a dozen cars) for the Castle Rock Viewpoint. The lookout provides a world-class panorama of the Bixby Creek Bridge, and below, a large half-moon cove edged at each end by cliffs and fronted with a white sand beach. Everybody stops, takes their photo of the bridge and leaves. Instead, bring you binoculars and scan for sea otters. This is a historic pupping ground.
Getting there: GPS location: Highway 1, Monterey; from the light at Rio Road in Carmel, set your odometer and drive miles. No phone contact.
6. Andrew Molera, Big Sur
At Andrew Molera State Park, the best strategy for views and sea otters is to take the Bluffs Trail. It spans miles one-way along the cliffs and overlooks the ocean, coves, kelp and outcrops. The highest probability for otter sightings tend to be on the southern end of this area, near the kelp. The beach access is where the Bluffs Trail connects with Spring Trail. Note that the park is still recovering from storm damage from nearly two years ago, when the walk-in campsites and five trails, Beach, Hidden, River, Headlands and Twin Cottonwoods, were closed by flooding and slides.
Getting there: GPS location: Highway 1, Big Sur; contact: Andrew Molera State Park, , www.parks.ca.gov
Tom Stienstra is The San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoor writer. Email: [email protected]Twitter: @StienstraTom
Monterey Kayak Rental
Kayak with the otters, sea lions, and seals on the Monterey Bay
Enjoy a day on the water with a sea kayak rental! Discover otters, sea lions, and seals on the Monterey Bay.
The area has tons of beautiful spots to explore. Paddle through the kelp forest canopy along Cannery Row and experience the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
You may be greeted by harbor seals swimming alongside you or resting sleepily on the rocks along the shore. Or you may witness a raft of otters rolling and playing in the kelp! Kayakers get an up-close look at this wonder of nature teeming with marine wildlife!
Our friendly staff can give you tips on the best spots to visit, kayak safety, and interacting with wildlife. Your kayak rental is quick and easy, and we launch your kayak from the beach right across the street, so you dont have to wait to get your sea adventure started.
Theres no better way to experience Monterey Bay!
Otters sea kayaking bay monterey
Get up close and personal with sea otters and seals by kayaking right along side them in the Elkhorn Slough Conservation Area at Moss Landing.
We went kayaking here off of a recommendation from my Aunt. I thought she was exaggerating and we might see one or two sea otters or seals off in the distance, but a few hours kayaking seems fun none the less.
Wow was I wrong! There are seals and sea otters EVERYWHERE! If youre not careful they just might jump into your kayak! Well, may not that much since they do keep their distance from people, but you do have to pay attention to where youre going as not to accidentally run into them.
Elkhorn Slough Conservation Area at Moss Landing is considered to be one of the top ten wildlife viewing destinations in North America. It has the largest remaining raft of southern sea otters on the planet. While the sea otters are the main draw, you will most certainly also see plenty of seals, sea lions, pelicans, and other sea birds.
Directions to Elkhorn Slough
Moss Landing is located in a cove on the pacific coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, about 45 mins from each. This entire area is a protected conservation area which is why so much wildlife comes here.
Kayak Rentals at Moss Landing
You can stand on the side of the road and look out and see lots of seals and sea lions, but kayaking is one of the best way to see these sea creatures as you get a chance to get really close to them.
Theres really only one kayak rental option at this location, which is The Kayak Connection.
Four hour rental rates (full day rentals are also available):
- $35 for single
- $55 for double
- $65 for triple
- Paddleboards: $35
Paddling Around Elkhorn Slough
The Kayak Connection will provide you with instructions on where to go when you rent your kayaks.
You are recommended to stay a safe distance from the docks with the sea lions since they arent always so friendly.
From Kayak Connection, youll paddle south around 1, feet until you get to the channel entrance from the ocean. Here you go left into the slough. This is where youll find most of the sea otters as they prefer this calmer more protected environment.
You can try to paddle right up next to them, but theyre pretty good at avoiding direct contact with people. However you will get a very good view of them playing, diving, and cracking open dinner on the rocks on their chest.
How far you go into the slough will depend on how long youve rented your kayaks for, but most of the otters hang out pretty close to the entrance. It will take a little longer to paddle back to Kayak Connection than it did going out as youre now going against the currant, so make sure you leave enough time.
Team OCEAN and Kayaking in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Naturalist Ron Eby kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough.
Since the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuarys Team OCEAN Program has put trained, knowledgeable naturalists out on the water in sanctuary kayaks, to greet and interact with fellow day kayakers. The naturalists serve as docents for the marine sanctuary, promote respectful wildlife viewing, and protect marine mammals from disturbance. A large percentage of ocean kayakers are visitors to the area and unaware of or undereducated about the sanctuarys existence and sensitive wildlife. Team OCEAN has proven to be a successful program with thousands of contacts per year. Team OCEAN volunteers can be found in Elkhorn slough and along the kelp beds off Cannery Row in Monterey.
For more information, please visit our calendar of events or contact Lisa Emanuelson Team OCEAN Coordinator at [email protected], or by phone at ()
For more information about kayaking in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, please visit montereybay.noaa.gov/visitor/kayak.html.
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Sunset, Baby Sea Otters Low Tide Kayak~ Elkhorn Slough
Sunset, Baby Sea Otters and Low Tide Kayak ~ Elkhorn Slough
$70 adults $50 kids ages years of age ~ 4 hour tour from beginning to end
Book a private tour or review our Local Tour Dates
Book a private tour with 5 or more of your friends, email Kim for details at: [email protected]
5 people~ $ per person for a private day on the water, 6 or more the above rates apply
We hope you will join as we paddle among sea otter pups, seals and all other wildlife wonders of the Slough. Leaving from Moss Landing, well have a leisurely paddle through the protected waterway. Birding is excellent with many species arriving into the slough to feast in the mud flats. Beginners welcomed ages 8 and above with an adult.
Dear Sea Kayakers:
I would like to welcome you to our kayaking adventure in Elkhorn Slough National Marine Estuary. The protected water of the Slough is an ideal place to observe some of Californias finest coastal resources. Sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and an array of birds can be seen at close range. With 90% of Californias wetlands loss to development, Elkhorn Slough offers a special opportunity to observe a biologically rich and critically endangered habitat.
Plan on meeting at the public boat launch ramp in North Moss Landing Harbor just behind Monterey Bay Kayaks ( Hwy One),We will be using tandem closed deck sea kayaks which are very stable and easy to use. No previous kayaking experience is necessary. We expect to be back at the launch area about 4 hours later.
As far as things to bring, here are a few suggestions I can offer:
* Face Mask and personal hand sanitizer.
* Dress in layers Fleece, capilene, silk or wool are good insulators; bring a warm top that can be put on if cool weather (fog) approaches; a sweatshirt is adequate.
* Long pants or shorts sweat pants that can be rolled up work well; an outer shell of nylon material dries quickly, but jeans get soggy and are not recommended.
* Wind breaker or paddling jacket
* Footgear tennis shoes, Teva type sandals or wet suit booties any style is fine; they will get wet as you wade in to launch your boat.
* Hat with visor for sun protection
* Water bottle nondisposable
* Snack in a compact lunch bag take in boat with you
* Sunscreen and lip balm
* Sun glasses (or prescription glasses) attached with a leash
* Binoculars and camera in waterproof bag ( use at your own risk);
* Small, compact day pack (optional)
* Change of clothes for ride home to be left in car
* Flashlight or headlamp
That covers the logistics for your kayaking trip adventure. A full refund will be given if the trip is cancelled due to inclement weather ( high winds or rain; not light mist or fog). Release forms will be discussed and signed before launching our boats. We are looking forward to our adventure together in the Slough!
Refunds are given when cancellations are made at least 10 days in advance of trip date.
Kim Powell, MRPA
Owner, Operator & Naturalist
Blue Water Ventures
phone & fax:
email: [email protected]
Mason St., Santa Cruz, CA
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DIRECTIONS TO ELKHORN SLOUGH (NORTH MOSS LANDING HARBOR)
FROM SANTA CRUZ
* TAKE HIGHWAY 1 SOUTH TOWARDS MONTEREY
* TURN RIGHT AT NORTH MOSS LANDING HARBOR BOAT RAMP~ MONTEREY BAY KAYAKS CA-1).
you will pass Moss Landing State Beach, then Kayak Connection; it takes about 30 minutes from Santa Cruz; this right turn takes you into Moss Landing North Harbor.
* MOSS LANDING NORTH HARBOR LAUNCH RAMP
The public boat launch area is behind Monterey Bay Kayaks ( CA-1, Moss Landing, CA ); park behind MBK in the public boat launch area. When you arrive, you will need to pay your $10 parking fee. Your Blue Water Ventures guides will have your parking permits to leave in your car. You will need $10 cash when you check in with them.
We will be unloading the trailer from a blue toyota sequoia at the boat ramp directly behind Monterey Bay Kayaks in North Moss Landing Harbor.
as youre heading south youll see the Moss Landing power stacks on the left side of the highway; if you go over the bridge and pass these stacks youve gone too far.
Kim can be reached on her cell phone on the day of the trip at: