Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

What You “Otter” See in California

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Occasionally, Chris and I head to Moss Landing for a daycation just to see what’s doing there. We stroll the beaches, have lunch out, search for wildlife, and, once in a while, jump in a wave. I take lots of photos.

About an hour south on Highway 1 from Santa Cruz, Moss Landing is home to fishing boats, whale watching cruises, Phil’s Fish Market and MBARI – the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (an excellent website if you are interested in marine life – Moss Landing is also home to the largest concentration of California sea otters.

My first sighting of a sea otter was in Morro Bay about 2003 and I was thrilled. Everyone loves sea otters, right? How could you not adore this fuzzy playful creature with the face of an Ewok? Since then I frequently spot them around Santa Cruz. It is always delightful to watch their antics: clapping hands, eating crabs, breaking shells open on rocks on their chests, wrestling each other.

By the 1930’s, it was thought that sea otters has been extirpated from California waters. They had been hunted until the population collapsed. But in a small cove along Big Sur, the locals had a secret. There was an isolated colony of about 50 otters living there. Eventually, they were discovered by biologists and, with help, this group became the genetic base for the resurgence of otters up and down the California coastline. Today there are about 3,000. It’s estimated that there had been 16,000 before fur hunting started in the 1700’s.

Usually, sea otters are visible only at a distance so we had incredible luck when we found two adults feeding near a small low bridge over the harbor. I was only about 20 to 40 feet from them. They were so engrossed in their fresh seafood meal that they ignored onlookers. They were in continuous motion, twirling and splashing in the blue water, gobbling their mollusks and crustaceans, diving repeatedly for more. Then a mom and pup joined the activity. When mom swam too far for the pup’s liking, the pup erupted into the heart-wrenching plaintive cry that is the universal language of all babies.

If you also can’t resist anything sea otter, I recommend the PBS “Nature” episode, “Saving Otter 501,” about an orphaned baby otter rescued in Monterey Bay by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She learns the ins and outs of being an otter from her new surrogate mom.




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Big Waves in Santa Cruz


I caught this shot on West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. The surfer was waiting for a safe lull in the waves in order to climb down into the swells. Last week was the Titans of Mavericks Surf Contest, a once a year event where 25 big wave surfers are invited to Half Moon Bay (north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1) to compete. A Santa Cruz native, Nic Lamb, won the $120,000 purse this year.

The Mavericks were named after a German shepherd who swam the quarter mile to these waves from shore to be with his surfer master. They  were also made a household by Apple and their operating system. These extra large waves only became popular with surfers in the 1990’s. Prior to that, few believed that big waves actually existed in California. Some California surfers said the discovery of the Mavericks was like being a mountain climber and suddenly finding that Everest, much to your surprise, was in your backyard.

(Please do not use or reproduce these photographs without permission.)


Sea lions like big waves too.