Southern Sea Otter in Monterey Surf

Sea Otters in Monterey Bay Surf

Southern sea otters foraging and feeding in the big waves

[These were photographed on different days, from the shore at a respectful distance, w/my 100-400mm (800mm equiv) + TC in some cases. Photos are also cropped. I add this notation with sea otter photos because as members of a protected and threatened species, sea otters need much space from humans. It’s critical to avoid disturbing them. The organization through which I’m certified as a wildlife steward, Sea Otter Savvy, has great info on ethical viewing guidelines]

My first experience observing and photographing otters in the surf was at a beach north of Monterey years ago. At the time, I hadn’t yet witnessed the ease with which they navigate the tumult of these swells. Their nonchalance in chaotic waters is extraordinary to watch, as they just bounce along the crests and troughs, often eating as they go.

When waves bring them a bit closer to shore, you can sometimes hear the crunching of mollusk shells between the booms and blasts of the surf. When pups join their mothers in the waves, their calls slice right through the ocean roar, too, enabling mom to find them when they get separated.

The pups I’ve seen in these large waves were a bit older and adept at diving into the swells alongside mom. The younger pups I’ve observed are mostly in more placid waters. A marine mammal expert I spoke with said that moms will also take much younger and smaller pups into the turbulent waters, clutching them as they go. But, I haven’t yet seen the really little ones in the big-wave environment.

Southern Sea Otter Riding the Surf in Monterey Bay
Southern Sea Otter in Big Wave on Monterey Bay

The last photo is of a mother otter and her young pup in a calmer bay. The pups are buoyant, so mom left the pup floating while she foraged below the surface. In this case, she made repeated dives and returned to her pup’s side, crunching the mollusks she’d just collected.

Photographed handheld w/OM1 + m.zuiko 100-400mm or m.zuiko 300mm, plus MC14 teleconverter (in some cases)

Sea Otter Mother and Pup Eating Mollusk on Monterey Bay

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