California Monterey MRY Monterey Peninsula wildlife

Monterey Bay where the wild things still live

a seal on a rock by the water
Sea lion on rock, Moss Landing, California

Environmental tourism is a major draw of Monterey Bay for visitors from around the world. I meet people from many states and countries when I am out and about viewing and photographing wildlife in the area.

a group of seagulls on a beach
Moss Landing harbor seals basking in warm late October sun, a floating sea otter in shallow water and many birds on the estuary sand bar.

Recent science news stories indicate 60% of the world’s mammals have been wiped out since 1970. That is around the same year I started learning about the impact of pollution on the planet through National Geographic and the growing conservation movement.

As a fifth grader in elementary school in 1971 I learned a new word and symbol – ecology.

The world was changing and we were going to change the world.

a green and white flag with a yellow circle and white stripes
1970s ecology flag

These days I read and see environmental news and it’s so depressing.

To clear my mind, sense nature again and feel something separate from our human-centered world finds me returning to places around Monterey County where the wild things still live. The presence of so many other living creatures convinces me to protect what we have still got.

an animal swimming in the water
Moss Landing sea otter

Wherever I travel there is never disappointment in returning home to Monterey Bay. Aside from massive numbers of rooks flying over Cluj-Napoca, Romania last week, I have only been around a few cats, dogs, swans and some other birds in the past few weeks.

It was time to visit a place where the wild things still live and are all around easily seen. Elkhorn Slough at the small town of Moss Landing in Monterey County is that kind of place.

a group of hippos swimming in water
Nine California sea otters near Moss Landing harbor entrance

Monterey Bay – Where the wild things still live

The day before Halloween I turned my car right, off California Highway 1 south, onto the road to Moss Landing State Beach. On the roadside to my right were a half-dozen people with spotting scopes aimed over the Elkhorn Slough estuary.

There were hundreds of brown and gray birds on a marsh island in the Elkhorn Slough estuary of Moss Landing north harbor. I know a few species of birds, but these bird types were not familiar species to me.

I asked the first person I came to with a spotting scope,

“What kind of birds are those over there?”

“Which ones?”

“The ones over there.” (my finger pointing)

He proceeded to rattle off around a dozen species of birds with his finger pointing that way, and this way and over there describing colors on wings and necks and heads. The bird in the tree is one I recognized too as a snowy egret.

I did not learn the species of the most numerous birds on the marsh island with a jumble of bird names he rattled off mixed up in my head and quickly forgotten.

Another birder arrived and said to me, “The best way to learn is take photos and then look them up on your computer.”

Reasonable advice, however, when I typed ‘Elkhorn Slough birds’ in Google, one of the first pages I read on describes Elkhorn Slough as a location where “one can see over 100 [bird species] on nearly any day of the year, making it among the most species-rich sites for birds in the state.”

My bird identification objectives will require a little more research time.

a bird swimming in the water

Audobon Society rates Elkhorn Slough, Monterey County as an important bird area and the “Elkhorn Slough ecosystem is one of the richest estuaries in the state. It is designated a National Estuarine Research Reserve (one of three in the state).”

a bird in a field by a body of water
Great Egret
a bird flying over water
Brown pelican Moss Landing north harbor
people kayaks in the water
Kayaks at Moss Landing north harbor. Palm trees are not native to this part of California.
a group of animals swimming in the water
Raft of sea otters with pelican skimming over water – Moss Landing
a bird flying in the sky
Pelican in flight – Moss Landing

Sea lions, sea otters and many species of birds occupied the estuary in Moss Landing north harbor. Stepping over the sand dune barrier to the beach side of Moss Landing State Beach is where I looked for whales in Monterey Bay.

a body of water with a blue sky
Only a couple of playful sea lions seen on Monterey Bay
a seal lying on the beach
Dead sea lion on Moss Landing State Beach

More species of birds stayed at the Pacific Ocean water’s edge, moving at times like characters in an old silent movie where the pace of walking is too fast.

a bird on a beach
Moss Landing State Beach bird

Moss Landing Harbor North Jetty

a sign on a beach
Moss Landing north jetty

Sitting on the rocks near the jetty looking into the water, I noticed a California sea lion swimming about 8 feet below me and lingering by the jetty rocks with no apparent desire to swim away from me.

a seal swimming in the water
California sea lion

This sea lion swam around staying near me for 15 minutes.

a seal swimming in the water
Moss Landing sea lion face

A sea otter showed up too and stayed around swimming nearby and diving for its shellfish meals.

a dog swimming in the water
sea otter near Moss Landing harbor north jetty
a sea lion swimming in the water
Oh my! What big teeth you have sea lion.
a person swimming in the water
Sea otter feeding

We have our tribes. Sitting on the rocks near the north jetty of the Moss Landing harbor entrance for moments being with the sea lion and the sea otter felt like I was nearing their wild tribes.

a seal on a rock
Sea lion on rock, Moss Landing, California

Sea lions climb rocks. This encounter with a wild sea lion was cool in a way in its proximity. But I am not in the sea lion tribe and this is their domain.

Time to rejoin the human tribe and drive back to Monterey for grocery shopping.

There are places I can go to again and again.

Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, Monterey County, California is one of those special places.

an animal swimming in the water
Sea otter Moss Landing
a group of ducks swimming in a body of water
Moss Landing otters

Moss Landing is easy to spot when you drive Highway 1 around Monterey Bay.

a factory with tall towers
Monterey Bay’s Duke Energy power plant in Moss Landing






  • Bobo November 2, 2018

    Love it, Ric!

  • james November 5, 2018

    Nice to see a “raft” – I’ve only seen a couple at a time together at most when I see them from Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz.

  • Ric Garrido November 6, 2018

    @James – Moss Landing is where I easily see the largest rafts of otters around here within 100-150 meters of shore. Point Lobos often has a raft of 20 or so otters off Sea Lion Point, but they are usually far enough off shore (300-400 meters) that a spotting scope is the best way to see them.

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