At Elkhorn Slough, marine wildlife is preserved and protected, as well as prolific. Visitors find sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and marine birds.
Some Marine wildlife species which were endangered are returning to the US West Coast. The Elkhorn Slough (pronounced slew) is a veritable paradise for seeing marine wildlife. Kayaks and canoes are available around Moss Landing, California, as are walking trails and an information center. While still amazing, they don’t compare to being out there with Captain Yohn Gideon and his naturalist, Rachel, on a 27 foot pontoon boat on the Elkhorn Slough Safari.
Passengers on the Safari count wildlife which Capt. Gideon reports to the wildlife officials. Children are given pictures of one kind of wildlife to hold up and to point out where they see it. Older children played a black out game to name different kinds of wildlife in a Bingo-type game.
What’s a Slough?
A slough is a muddy bottomed body of water which contains a mixture of salt and fresh water. The percentage of salt versus fresh changes depending on the amount of fresh runoff from the land surrounding it. When less rain falls, the slough is more like a salt marsh. When more rain swells the rivers that drain into the slough, it becomes an estuary of primarily fresh water. A slough is a natural gathering place for marine wildlife, particularly some that have been on the endangered species list.
Sea Lions guard the slough harbor entrance. As the pontoon boat charts a course out of the harbor, sea lions bark incessantly. Some are in the water; others are on the dock. On this cruise, 32 sea lions were counted.
Not far into the slough, sea otters are spotted in the slough. At first the otters are individuals floating on their backs with head, paws, and flippers out of the water. Some mom otters had their cubs lying on their chests. But around the bend, the passengers are treated to a rare and amazing sight: a raft (the name for a group of sea otters floating together) of 52 sea otters. Captain Gideon tells the group that it is the biggest raft he has ever seen and composes about 3% of the sea otter population.
The farther the boat putts into the slough, harbor seals come into view. At first one is in the water, then a few on the bank until both sides of the slough are covered with sleeping harbor seals. Apparently nocturnal, these seals were not interested in the least in the watchers from the boat who were pointing, taking pictures, and using binoculars to see these animals which were nearly hunted into extinction. One hundred thirty-two were counted on this tour.
Pelicans in Elkhorn Slough
Brown and white pelicans abound in Elkhorn Slough. The brown pelicans put on quite an air show for the passengers on the Safari while fishing for lunch. They started about 20-40 feet, hovering and watching for fish. When one is spied, the pelican dives from that height straight into the slough. Then they immediately bob to the surface with the fish in its beak. The sight was breathtaking as well as fun to watch. Fish ingested, the pelican would then take off to find more prey.
Egrets, Heron, and Cormorants
Other birdlife at the slough include many cormorants in their eucalyptus tree rookery, straight and spoon-billed ibis, snowy egrets (3), and a blue heron. The cormorants, whose feathers are not
waterproof like the pelicans, must run across the water flapping their wings wildly in order to dry them before taking flight. Like the pelicans, they were fishing for lunch which means diving (from the surface).
The Elkhorn Slough is a preserve that all ages can enjoy. More important is that the Elkhorn Slough is protecting marine wildlife while providing education and conservation of habitat for all to enjoy.