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Marine mammals

Started: 2020-09-13 15:48:15

Submitted: 2020-09-13 18:25:12

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his family kayaking on Monterey Bay

On Labor Day weekend the forecast called for record high temperatures, while local authorities mumbled something about "COVID-19" and closed beaches from Big Sur to Pacifica. Never mind that we know that people outside on the beach in a nice shore breeze are unlikely to transmit COVID-19, and beach closures are likely to push people into backyards and indoors and other places where they're more likely to get infected (and SFGate's article about the beach closures led with public health experts saying the closures were unnecessary).

But there was a loophole: while beaches were closed we could still rent kayaks and go out on the water, where there was more than enough space to stay physically distant. I reserved kayak rentals on Sunday, 6th September in Monterey; and on Sunday morning we drove down the mountain and along Monterey Bay, stopping along the way to get masks for Calvin because he forgot to bring his as we were leaving the house.

We rented kayaks from Monterey Bay Kayaks, located on the beach just outside of the pier marking one edge of the harbor. I rode in a double kayak with Julian, Kiesa rode in a double kayak with Calvin, and Sharon rode in a single kayak. (Julian didn't have a paddle, but I had no trouble pushing both of us through the water.)

Calvin and Kiesa kayak on Monterey Bay
Calvin and Kiesa kayak on Monterey Bay

We paddled next to the municipal wharf, past sailboats moored at buoys outside the harbor. As we reached the end of the wharf I realized that the background noise of the sea lions was coming from under the wharf; and as I looked closer I could see the sea lions resting on platforms just above the water. They were behaving so much like sea lions on the Internet — showing up and making a lot of noise at each other (and anyone else within earshot) — that I couldn't help but think how apt the comparison was.

Julian on a kayak in Monterey Bay
Julian on a kayak in Monterey Bay

We paddled past the open mouth of the harbor, past the end of the Coast Guard Pier, where more sea lions lounged and barked at each other, accompanied by a phalanx of black cormorants standing on the white rocks. Our kayak outfitter reminded us of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and our responsibility to stay 50 feet away from any marine mammals we encountered, so we tried to observe the jetty from a minimum safe distance. Not everyone on the water seemed to be honoring the minimum safe distance, including one tour boat operator that seemed to be cutting much closer to the jetty, and to the sea lions perched on the jetty (and the harbor seals frolicking in the water in front of the jetty), than seemed appropriate under Federal law.

Coast Guard Pier, Monterey Harbor
Coast Guard Pier, Monterey Harbor

I also observed that the seagulls were not subject to the Marine Mammal Protection Act: I saw two gulls stalking and harassing a sea otter, chasing the otter for a hundred meters across the cove, apparently intent on sharing whatever food the otter had found in the kelp forest.

Sea otters in Monterey Bay
Sea otters in Monterey Bay

The marine mammals proved difficult to photograph: I couldn't get very close, and from 50 feet away the sea otter's head sticking a couple of inches above the water (which I could see clearly in person) looked like a tiny black blob.

Calvin and Kiesa kayak above a kelp forest
Calvin and Kiesa kayak above a kelp forest

We turned into a cove on the other side of the harbor and paddled on top of the kelp forest. From our vantage on the top of the water, all we could really see were the top of the kelp, brushing against the top of the water, with the occasional group of divers sticking their heads above the water.

Calvin and Julian on kayaks in Monterey Bay
Calvin and Julian on kayaks in Monterey Bay

We paddled back around the Coast Guard Pier and paddled into the harbor, past the sailboats moored at the mouth of the harbor. Inside the harbor we paddled to the back of the harbor, where the water grew shallow (1/2 fathom, below mean lower low water, according to the NOAA chart for Monterey Bay).

Julian and Sharon on kayaks in Monterey Harbor
Julian and Sharon on kayaks in Monterey Harbor

Julian wanted to get out and walk on the rocks on the shore, so I pulled up to the edge of the water and let him disembark, then tried to maintain my position next to the shore as best I could. I saw a jellyfish, maybe six or nine inches across, that looked like a juvenile Pacific sea nettle, of the kind I've seen elsewhere while kayaking along the Pacific coast. I tried to take a picture but my phone camera (inside the waterproof case, which obstructed the camera's view) only resolved a fuzzy tan blob floating under the water.

I spotted what I first thought was a sea otter resting in the water, but then I figured it must be a rock that looked like an otter because it wasn't moving. A kayak tour group came by and the guide pointed out it was a harbor seal, perched on an underwater rock; and once I convinced Julian to board the kayak again and we resumed paddling, we got close enough to see that it was, in fact, a harbor seal, sunning itself in an awkward perch at the edge of the water.

Birds on a rock in Monterey Harbor
Birds on a rock in Monterey Harbor

We paddled out of the harbor and back to the beach, where we turned in our rental gear, washed our feet off in the foot shower (it turned out the foot wash was pressure-activated, and Julian wasn't heavy enough to activate the water), and headed back home along highway 1.

For a few more pictures from our day on the water, see Photos on 2020-09-06.

I swear, it's not my fault if I loose things, even if I do have huge
messes.
- Neelix, 0223 CDT 30 April 2000, upon finding something he was looking
for on the bottom of a pile of Humblik's clothes