CENTRAL COAST DOG WALKS
Whisper Charters - Elkhorn Slough
by Pam Bonsper
"Elkhorn Slough is the best kept secret in the Monterey Bay area. I'll show it to you just so long as you keep it a secret!"
Those are the words of Captain Brian Ackerman, owner of Whisper Charters. His eco-friendly electric powered launch allows passengers to enjoy the natural sounds of the slough in cozy comfort. Brian provides the amenities: coffee, tea, binoculars, blankets, and most importantly, dog biscuits. You can bring your own lunch or enjoy a catered meal, and wine and beer are available for purchase.
Whisper Charters is located at the North Harbor of Moss Landing next to the Elkhorn Yacht Club and the Kayak Connection. A map can be found on the website: www.whispercharters.com.
Brian's charter cruises will accommodate six passengers. Tours are scheduled for 8:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. daily. He also offers a one-hour wine and cheese harbor cruise from 5:30–6:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Dogs are welcome. (If they aren't going to bark at the wildlife or try to jump off the boat!)
We board the boat, and my doggie easily walks right on. She is content to lie on the floor until she gets a whiff of a harbor seal right next to us; then she positions herself on the seat next to me and suddenly has a bird's-eye view.
"Wow! Are we really under power?" I ask as we slide past boats in the marina. Sea lions barking and seals' heads popping alongside the boat indicate we are.
"The harbor is in the Salinas River," Brian explains as we go under the Highway 1 bridge to arrive in the slough. "Slough means muddy, marshy water. It is healthy green salt water, filled with organisms that provide a natural haven for marine life. Almost anything in the ocean shows up in the slough. The Moss Landing Slough is seven miles long, winding back almost to the Pajaro River."
We peacefully cruise through the water as sea otters crack open crabs and geoduck (pronounced “gooeduck”) clams. Flocks of pelicans dive-bomb for anchovies and sardines. Shorebirds shuffle along on stick legs, their long beaks stabbing the sand. The slough supports overs 340 species of birds, including loons, gulls, great egrets, snowy plovers, double-crested cormorants, and marbled godwits.
"It's a great place to be a bird," Brian says. "This is one of the major stopovers in the Pacific Flyway. You might even see some very rare birds: marbled murrelets, Muscovy Ducks, blue-footed boobies; I've even seen a pink flamingo."
Flocks of cormorants glide across the water as our boat rocks with the gentle waves. Gulls screech and jellyfish drift alongside the boat as we pass the MoonGlow Dairy, where bird-watchers come to visit from all over the world.
Birds fly and swoop, fish jump, sea lions bark, and harbor seals wallow in the muddy banks. We spot and point out, "There's a great blue heron. There's a peregrine falcon."
We see Hummingbird Island, once home to the Ohlone Indians, now a refuge for wildlife. We pass the Elkhorn Slough Research Reserve and observe a researcher on the shore, studying the sea otters. We pass the pickleweed marshes where American avocets daintily sweep the water for bugs.
"Shorebirds work the interface between water and land," Brian explains. ”They are very dependent on low tide—they come out twice a day. Snowy egrets, black-necked stilts, black-bellied plovers, western sandpipers, long-billed curlews dine in this lush marsh, which is a series of inter-connected tidal creeks—the second largest in California. Shorebirds all drill at different depths, so the slough can support lots of them."
We have come about four miles. Large rafts of sea otters wrap themselves in eelgrass and hang out in groups: females and babies together, and males some distance away. We are given a private, close-up show of moms feeding their babies. My doggie is totally enchanted with the sea otters. She points her nose in their direction, cocks her head and jumps in my lap. (I think she wants to be held like a baby.)
Brian comments, "This is the highest concentration of sea otters anywhere in the world. It is heaven: lots of food and no predators. There are few places in California where the forces of development haven't won over."
As we head back to the harbor, Brian points to the banks. "Thousands of pelicans will come to roost here tonight. It is quite a sight."
We wish we could see them, but it's time to go. When we first arrived Brian had said, "I want to introduce people to a world that's in their backyard that they don't realize they have access to."
I hope everyone who reads this will take their dogs (and their friends) on a Whisper Charters cruise. The tour is available year round. With our mild seasons, it shouldn’t be hard to find a beautiful day to go out. Be sure to mention your dog when you make reservations, as Brian will want to make sure everyone on board is ok with a dog joining the tour.
Take a jacket and enjoy the cruise, but most important of all . . .
Keep the secret!