We heard the cracking first — the telltale sea otter sounds of mussels crushed in teeth, or shells hammered on belly rocks. Those sounds punctuate the oceanic lulls along the Monterey shoreline. Once in a while, we hear metallic echoes from otters using nearby docks and pilings as cracking tools.
This percussion was loud — louder than usual — and persistent. When I pointed my lens I saw some vigorous shell-crushing by a female otter, identified by her scarred nose (a typical mating injury). She was slamming a cone-shaped shell against a huge rock on her belly, but I couldn’t identify the prey. The color of the shell faded from pink into algae green, and the size dwarfed the otter’s front paws.
When I later offloaded the images onto my Mac, I saw it was a large sea snail. Based on other photos I’d seen, I thought the snail was probably a Kellet’s Whelk. But, I didn’t realize until I posted it on social media that this was a relatively uncommon sight for Monterey Bay. I included my photo in an Instagram post, along with the tentative ID, which then led to this post by Sea Otter Savvy: