If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf head to Moss Landing’s Elkhorn Slough, just 15 minutes north of Monterey. This tiny corner of Monterey County holds a secret playground for all sorts of amazing critters including harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans and lots of sea otters! One of the most unique ways to explore the protected wetland is with Elkhorn Slough Safari on a pontoon boat. I never pass up an opportunity to ride alongside Captain Gideon as each time you are bound to see and learn something new about this abundantly diverse wetland and its inhabitants.
My friends and I met up with the Captain and his knowledgeable assistant Emily at Moss Landing’s Harbor District just before 10:30am to sign a few waiver forms. After buckling in our life vests we climbed aboard the comfortable vessel and were off!
Moss Landing’s harbor is a tour in itself. The docks are lined up with everything from weathered fishing boats with clever names tattooed on the backside to pricey Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ships with top of line research equipment on-board.
While making our way out to the slough Emily appointed a few of us to be the official “counters” of some of the species we would come across to report to the Elkhorn Slough Reserve. I am not going to lie; I was crossing my fingers for sea otters, but wound up with harbor seals.
In the open slough harbor seals were playing and splashing around beneath us while migratory birds were watching their posts and taking a rest on some of the nearby rocks. Whenever we came across something interesting the Captain stopped and explained what we were looking at while plugging in some one-liner jokes along the way.
Just passed “bird rock” you could see various furry heads poking up through the surface of the water. I took a pair of binoculars for a closer look. It was amazing to see that the bobbing bodies were actually a large group of sea otters. These groups are called “rafts” and they stay together for socialization purposes. Watching them interact with one another made me wish I had Doctor Dolittle’s powers.
Just up yonder was a dock that had been taken over by sea lions. There were hundreds of these loud and obtrusive animals everywhere, they were certainly entertaining to watch but beware of their intoxicating natural aroma.
As we proceeded underneath the Highway One Bridge wildlife activity continued to pick up. Pelicans were diving for fish beneath the surface of the water, harbor seals were basking in the sun on the shoreline while baby sea otters were being cuddled by their mothers. There was a picturesque National Geographic scene almost everywhere you turned!
On the way back the Captain continued on his with quick wit and interesting fun facts. I had no idea that the slough was potentially named after the tens of thousands of tulle elk that once called this sanctuary home! The two hour tour flew by and was over before I knew it! By the end of the day we spotted over 40 sea otters, 350 sea lions and 164 harbor seals, thankfully I had help from my crew with the seal count.
This is definitely an ideal way to see the sights and wildlife with young ones, elderly folks or anyone wanting to get a closer glimpse of nature’s show out on the Elkhorn Slough. Photographers particularly flock to this mode of transport since you can bring a much larger camera on-board than a kayak. Safari Tours even offers specialty photography workshop where a professional is on board giving helpful hints along the way.