If you love Sea Otters, you are in for a treat if you head to Moss Landing, CA. Moss Landing is most noted as the gateway to Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest wetlands in the state. Here you can get a good look at the Sea Otters, Harbor Seals, and many of species of birds. In fact, over 350 species of birds migrate through Elkhorn Slough every year.
One of my favorite ways to get out on the Elkhorn Slough is by kayaking. Don’t have a kayak? Not to worry, there are a couple kayaking outfitters that rent kayaks nearby.
Kayak Connection, 2370 Highway 1, Moss Landing, CA 95039. Phone number: 831-724-5692.
Monterey Bay Kayaks, 2390 CA-1, Moss Landing, CA 95039 Phone: (831) 373-5357.
I have rented from Monterey Bay Kayaks on several occasions, and they are fantastic, not to mention their rates are pretty reasonable and gear is included. This includes life vests, splash jacket, splash pants, paddle leash, and backrest for your kayak. The staff also will give you a very thorough introduction on safety, how to paddle/navigate, as well as what you will see out on the water, and how to get to the Elkhorn Slough. Their shop is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm every day except Christmas.
I like to rent the sit on top kayaks, as they are very sturdy for photographing wildlife on the water, and there is plenty of room to put your gear. If you are new to photographing on the water, I would go with a double kayak, as they are even sturdier than the single kayaks. However, they will be a bit harder to navigate in windy conditions, as they are longer.
Sea Otters- Resident
Harbor Seals- Resident
A few American White Pelican can be present at any date.
Great Blue Heron and both Egrets- Resident.
Flocks of Scoters (mostly Surf), Scaup (mostly Greater), and Bufflehead-Winter
All 3 Loons may be present, as well as Eared, Horned, Western, Clark’s and a very few Red-Necked Grebes- Winter
All 3 Cormorants- Resident
Where Can All The Wildlife Be Found?
A wide variety of wildlife can be found on land, flying overhead, or in the water the entire 4 miles of kayaking on the Elkhorn Slough.
Are There Restrictions When Kayaking On The Elkhorn Slough?
Once on the Elkhorn Slough, you must remain in your kayak at all times until you get back to shore where the shop is that you rented your kayak from. It is also important that you stay at least 5 boat lengths away from the Sea Otters and Harbor Seals, and never sneak up on a sleeping Harbor Seal or Sea Otter. They could wake up suddenly and swim into your Kayak injuring themselves. Fines have been issued to violators, as the Sea Otters and Harbor Seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection (MMPA) Sometimes the Sea Otters will sneak up, and try to hitch a ride on your kayak, as cute as they are, they are still wild animals. Best thing to do in this instance is to gently use your paddle to encourage them to get back into the water and put some distance between your kayak and the Sea Otter. If you would like to go for a hike after your kayaking adventure, your best bet is to visit The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve where there are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes.
Whats in my Kayak?
- Canon 70D
- Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens ( I would not go with anything bigger than a 400mm lens, as it will be too heavy to handhold in the kayak.)
- 77mm circular polarized lens Filter
- Waterproof-Dry-Bag (to keep my camera gear in, when I am getting in and out of my kayak)
- Extra Batteries
- SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB
- Waterproof Sun Screen (If it is a sunny day the sun will bounce off the water and reflects back on your face)
- Snacks and Water (Make sure all your trash stays in your kayak and does not end up in the water.)
- 2.5-pound anchor (I only use the anchor if a raft of Sea Otters will stay around and let me photograph them)
- Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket ( I like to use a weather jacket as it keeps the water droplets off my camera while I am paddling)
- Clothing Layers (The water most of the time on the Elkhorn Slough is calm in the morning, but a breeze most likely will pick up early afternoon.)
Tips For Taking Wildlife Photos On The Water
Taking photos of wildlife on the water in a kayak can be a lot of fun, but also challenging. A couple of things play into factor.
- You don’t have the use of a tripod
- Your boat is constantly moving
- You have to pay attention to which way the tide is running.
- Wind direction
As far as what lens to use while photographing on the Elkhorn Slough, try not to go with anything smaller than a 300mm and no larger than a 400mm lens as it will be too heavy to shoot while hand holding it. I like to keep a small 2.5-pound anchor in my kayak in case I come across a raft of Sea Otters that want to stick around. Point the Bow or the front end of your boat into the breeze and carefully and quietly let your anchor into the water. This keeps my kayak stable and still so I can photograph away. Remember to stay 5 boat lengths away from the Sea Otters. If the otters are on the move, sit tight and see what they are doing. You never want to chase the Sea Otters down, especially mom’s with their pups. Most likely the Sea Otters will come back around to you.
The wind can challenge you as well and can turn your boat around when you stop paddling after you have set yourself up for your shot. The best thing to do is to overcompensate in the direction you know the wind will turn you, have your camera ready and as the wind turns your boat quickly focus on your subject and fire away. I suggest you have your camera set on Shutter Priority (TV) as well as high shutter speed. You have to be quick, and it will take a little practice, and patience as photographing in a boat is much more challenging than on land. If you do happen to get frustrated, try putting the camera down for a few minutes, and remember that you are kayaking on one of the most amazing wetlands in the country. Take in the scenery, and don’t focus so much on trying to get the perfect shot.
Have fun, respect the wildlife, and keep on shooting.