kayaking w/ sea otters in Calif

A friend and I are wanting to go to the Monteray Bay Ca area and paddle with/around sea otters. Anyone have reports, suggestions of a vendor, best places, etc. When is best season, etc.

We live in TN and will fly in without any of our own gear. We are both moderately experienced flat water kayakers.


Elkhorn Slough is fun.

– Last Updated: Nov-05-08 8:18 PM EST –

Here's a few pics from my last time down there in October of this year.



Great Pictures
Did you have your own boats or did you rent? We will have to rent or go on an organized excursion. Prefer to rent and go at our own pace. Any vendor info?

I just adore sea otters. My friend will take stills & I will do video.

2 rental places

– Last Updated: Nov-05-08 8:53 PM EST –

Here are the 2 rental places in the area:

Both have sites at Elkhorn. MBK also has a site down in Monterey at the pier. KC has a site in Santa Cruz at the small boat harbor.

If you can prove to them you can wet exit and do a solo re-entry, they may let you rent sit inside kayaks. Otherwise you will be renting SOTs.

You are likely to see otters at any one of the 3 site, though I think Elkhorn has the greatest possibility.

Note - sea otters do fall under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Here is some information related to what you need to be aware of: http://www.elkhornslough.org/paddling3.htm It is particularly important if a otter, seal, etc. is hauled out that you do not flush it back into the water.

A lot of the closer pictures you see are where people are lucky to have the otter approach them. You are not allowed to approach too close to them, but there is nothing saying they can't approach you.

Elkhorn Slough is the perfect spot for someone who doesn’t have open water exprience to meet some Marine Mammals.

I have been to Elkhorn Slough a few times, and the last time I didn’t see any Sea Otters. They may have been out in the Bay. On one trip years ago, I counted 50 in one day.

This little fellow was at Sanata Cruz Habor.


The Elkhorn Slough is a nice place to paddle in protected waters. It would be nice if you could time your kayaking trip so you go in with the high tide and out with the low tide.

I saw most of the seals and pups not far into the trip. I also had an otter float next to my kayak on the way out. The otter would go under the water to get shellfish, then come back up next to me with a rock on his belly and begin to crack it open.

There is also a nice area, but I can’t recall exactly where it is. It’s by the rock jetty. You’ll see lots of huge sealions there and seals.

If you want an exceptional place to stay, my choice is Pacific Grove. It’s a small outcropping along the coast, butting up against Monterey. If you go during certain times, you’ll see the butterflies:


Later in April may have been when I went and saw the walk area covered for blocks with stunning gorgeous purple flowers. You can see those flowers on this homepage:


If you find out when they are in bloom, that’s when I went, and had fantastic whether and found lots of sealife around.

This link shows hotels. I forget which one I stayed in the first time, but on my 2nd trip, I stayed at Borg’s. It was pretty inexpensive, but you get what you pay for. It’s an old room with little space, but it really depends on how you want to travel and how much time you think you will spend in your room, if you want to upgrade to a nicer hotel.


I think I may have been upgraded to stay in the Deer Haven when my original hotel did not have a fireplace when I checked in, so I was put in a nicer hotel in the chain, still in Pacific Grove. I think most hotels either have a water view or are up the street from the water. Pacific Grove is a very special place. You can also see otters right in the water in Pacific Grove. Bring binoculars.

If you go, it will be a memory of a lifetime.


Almost Forgot Wind Warning
It seems everytime I go to Elkhorn the paddle back is into a pretty stong wind. Not to the point of being dangerous, just makes it a long paddle back

way around this…
One way around this is to arrange with MBK for them to pick you up at a park located inland. They do this shuttle service for like $10 a head.

cute little sea otters and the law
In one of Tiim’s pictures, the caption says “It’s difficult to see but mom has her pup on her tummy. When I got close she grabbed it and went under.”

Sea otters are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an actual law, and for good reason. Sea otters in California have bounced back from near extinction but are still under stress, particularly on Cannery Row and in Elkhorn Slough.

Sea otters don’t have blubber, they have thick fur and a super high metabolism. To keep that metabolism running and stay alive they have to catch and eat something like 25% of their body weight each day. If you weigh 165 lbs., that’s the equivalent of 165 quarter pounders per day!!! (They weigh ~60 lbs. and have to catch and eat 15 lbs.) The rest of the time the are sleeping, trying to conserve energy. Whenever a kayaker wakes them and forces them to flee, that’s energy they have to regain. Even worse, if they dive without going through the proper routine (which contains 4 steps), water gets through their fur and they get chilled.

So disturbing an otter to get a picture with it is not cool. Better to take pictures from a distance. Although some otters will approach you. If they do, that’s okay. Just don’t let them get too familiar. Otherwise they eventually get put down.


– Last Updated: Nov-08-08 1:22 PM EST –

the otter and us were in a tight slough together and we tried to keep our distance (not always easy in a strong current), but at times we, admitedly, did get a litle too close for comfort. ;-/

And thanks, I'm aware of the law.


Thanks for all the info
I do believe we have found the place to go. I have been a fan of sea otters for a long time and have read extensively about the conservation, the laws/rules about going near them, etc. We both have zoom cameras and have been practicing shooting on the rivers and lakes where boats rock us alot. We have a little open water experience, but mostly lakes and rivers. I will gladly demo a wet exit to get possibly the same kayak I own which would make things more familiar. I even thought about taking at least the paddles as they are very nice carbon litewts. Will see what the vendors have before deciding.

I understand paddling into the wind and current. When TVA lets water out of the dams, it can be a chore going against that flow. And, in some of these TN valleys the wind can get pretty stiff at times. You just dig in and paddle!

Thanks to everyone for all the information, great pics and sources of information on hotels, etc.