Southern Sea Otters in Monterey Bay Surf

One of my favorite southern sea otter experiences was watching two otters foraging for mollusks in the turbulent surf of Monterey Bay a few years ago. I usually witness otters diving in more placid conditions, so when I saw dark shapes bobbing on wave crests, I first thought they were sea ducks. Then, I thought seal or sea lion before it registered that these baubles were the sleek heads of hungry otters.

The scene reminded me of the cormorants I photographed along a different stretch of a stormy Pacific. I’m always struck by the smooth adaptations of sea animals to the raging currents around them. The swells that would consume or terrify us are part of their daily norm. As with the cormorants preening in the midst of pounding waves, these sea otters snack on clams and urchins as the surf crashes around them.

What was especially gratifying about this experience, beyond the inherent splendor of the scene, was that my distance from them, standing on the beach, made for an unobtrusive photo session. Respectful focal lengths and physical distance are important facets of sea otter viewing. I’m certain they were aware of me, but they were going about their feeding with barely a notice.

Photographed @ 600mm equivalent focal length

Olympus EM1II + m.zuiko 300mm f/4

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