Marine mammals stir the hearts of even the most jaded Coastsiders. Slackers, too. We’ve seen dolphins cruising, whales spouting, harbor seals lolling, and elephant seals … well, um… it was mating season. But sadly, not a single sea otter. Where the heck are the sea otters?
Being discerning sea mammals, apparently California sea otters prefer life 100 miles to the south near the studied charm of Carmel-by-the-Sea. At least that’s where the somewhat nebulous California Sea Otter Reserve is located. So, on our recent visit to Big Sur we decided to drop in and see if we could find a pod or two.
Previously, MontaraManDan and the Geek had recorded a single sea otter sighting. We spotted it some 20 years ago while sitting on a bench above Carmel Beach near Tor House and Hawk Tower, home to 20th century poet Robinson Jeffers. Just off the beach, a single otter was diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Diving, bobbing, feeding rolling. We were mesmerized.
Flashing forward to summer 2017 at Big Sur, our quest for sea otters got off to a great start – we slept in and enjoyed a full breakfast at the Big Sur River Inn. (What else would you expect from a couple of slackers?) But by mid-morning, we had checked out and were on the road. So, not bad.
Google maps shows the coastal reserve stretching from Pfeiffer Beach to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Maybe. Available websites were not particularly clear on the extent of the reserve. And, unfortunately, the region is rife with closures due to various acts of man and God that have ravaged the region over the past year. Nevertheless, we persisted.
- Pfeiffer Beach? Closed.
- Andrew Molera State Park? Closed.
- Point Sur Lighthouse? Guided tours on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays only. It was Tuesday.
- The former Naval Facility Point Sur? Most decidedly closed.
- Garrapata State Park? The beach was open, but the only way a sea otter was going to survive that wild and crazy surf was in a wet suit with pair of floaties.
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve? Open! But no otters. “Try Moss Landing,” said a helpful park ranger. “There’s a pod of 20 or so that have been hanging out up there.”
Score! We steered back onto Highway 1 and headed north.
The Moss Landing Wildlife Area is located in the shadow of the Moss Landing Power Plant. The natural gas powered electricity generating plant with its tall dual smoke stacks offers no beauty, no charm, and little majesty. But it does offer power. And we need power at home for the lights, induction stove and well pump. So …
Our first clue that our quest was nearing completion? Must of been the “Sea Otter Xing” sign as we turned into the reserve. So cute! The second clue was a sea otter hanging out near the drive at the north end of Elkhorn Slough. Exile or loner, it was diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling.
It was mesmerizing. But it was not a pod. Who wants a classic nature rerun with the promise of an otter binge at hand? We parked and began walking south along the edge of the slough. Our conversations went something like this.
M-Man: “Is that an otter?”
Geek: “No, it’s a bird. It’s small and has feathers.”
M-Man: “Hey, look at the seals on the sand bar.”
Geek: “Oh. I thought those were sandbags.”
And then, just across from strategically positioned Monterey Bay Kayaks, we spotted a raft of not 20 but at least 40 sea otters. A veritable sea otter convention. We half expected to find tasseled fez hats and mini-bikes. Apparently we had discovered a secret club house.
Many dozed contentedly on their backs. Others engaged in unidentified sea otter shenanigans, splashing together in the calm of the slough. We think they were having fun. And some, not surprisingly, were diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. Typical day at the club house.
And there were groupies! Across the slough, they manned a flotilla of brightly colored kayaks, paddling quietly toward the pod before lining up a safe distance away to enjoy the show. Truly, I think we had a better view on the rise above the beach. The sea otters did not seem to care who was watching or from where.
As we prepared to head for home, one otter actually hauled itself awkwardly out onto the beach. You’d be awkward too if you were roughly the size of a raccoon with the face and fore-paws of a beaver and the hindquarters of a seal. They are much cuter while diving, bobbing, feeding, rolling. This one humped its way across the sand and collapsed. A slacker sea otter, perhaps. Or maybe too many shenanigans.
And speaking of shenanigans, we leave you with a viral video we spotted on a Facebook feed of Larry, the world’s most seductive sea otter. Watch him bob and roll.