The Ebb and Flow of Monterey Bay’s Elkhorn Slough

Visit Slap-Happy Seals and Voracious Sea Otters

Credit: Chuck Graham

As my kayak gently sliced through the silky smooth waters beneath Highway 1 and into Elkhorn Slough, its many inhabitants enjoyed the tranquil setting surrounded by pickleweed and separated by a maze of serpentine-like channels. The second-largest tidal slough in California (after the San Francisco Bay) provides sanctuary for more than 700 species of marine mammals, invertebrates, plants, and algae.

Credit: Chuck Graham

Located in Moss Landing inside Monterey Bay, Elkhorn Slough is one of the prime places in North America for viewing wildlife. Best explored from a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, the seven-mile-long tidal marsh is one of the easiest places to go paddling with southern sea otters, frolicking harbor seals, and a throng of birdlife ― more than 340 avian species foraging the mudflats and wading through aquatic vegetation. It’s a paddling experience that guarantees intimate encounters in a biologically rich wetland flanked by a power plant, Highway 1, and a dairy farm. The name Elkhorn Slough is derived from the native tule elk that once inhabited the region.

Paddling on, I wove my way through a gauntlet of slap-happy seals smacking their tails on the water’s surface and rolling and jostling with each other in the shallows. The eel grass waved with the ebb and flow of the tide. In contrast, the slough’s sea otters ― the highest concentration of the species in California ― took their play more seriously. More than 120 of these marine mammals with the densest fur in the animal kingdom breed and pup in the area. They spend their days satisfying their insatiable appetites, consuming 30 percent of their body weight every 24 hours. Clams, crabs, innkeeper worms, and other invertebrates are on their menu.

If you don’t have your own kayak, renting one is simple through Kayak Connection or Monterey Bay Kayaks. Both are located in the harbor in Moss Landing. Launching and landing is easy, too, for all levels of paddlers. Just mind the tides and northwest winds, which can challenge anyone.

To learn more about the inner workings of Elkhorn Slough, visit the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, where restoration and education are the nonprofit’s priority. 

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