The Magic of Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

by Nancy Soares on December 14, 2015

Editor’s note: This is our last article for 2015. We hope you have enjoyed our adventures! Stay tuned for our next post in January 2016, and have safe Holidays and a wonderful New Year!   

Text by Steven El Rey King

Photographs by Scott Becklund and Paul Hammond

Paddling with humpbacks at the sanctuary

Paddling with humpbacks at the sanctuary

There are many amazing reserves, national parks and marine sanctuaries on our planet. There is at the same time often much dismal news about the degradation of our global environment and food production systems. We are in the midst of a global ecological transformation, which is of critical importance to all of us.

Water ballet...

Water ballet…

At the same time there are astonishingly beautiful and peaceful natural environments all around us. This short narrative and collection of images of our water planet is an homage to one such place in Northern California.

Humpbacks at the sactuary

They’re so big!

Several of us recently had the great fortune to launch our kayaks on a few calm, ethereal mornings and head into the exquisite and magical Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.

Setting off...

Setting off…

It is difficult to describe the mega abundance of marine life that surrounds a paddler, just a 20-minute paddle outside the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. The Slough itself is of course a wildlife wonderland and has delighted thousands who have spent an afternoon paddling there bearing witness to the richness and diversity of that miraculous interface of land and sea.

Flukes ahoy!

Flukes ahoy!

The magic that encased us within the open water of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary however felt a bit like beholding the paintings of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The sky was a circular dome bounded by glistening land and sea. On one particular day in September the ocean was literally sparkling and teeming with birds, seals, dolphin pods and of course whales rising, blowing and slipping into the sea. On another morning as a storm squall slowly transformed the horizon it felt as though we were paddling through multiple levels of the universe in the symmetrical yet swirling patterns of Buddhist tanka.

Cruisin' with the pod

Cruisin’ with the pod

The images in this post are of humpback whales whose rhythmic and graceful passage all around us felt like Nature’s ultimate ballet: synchronized movements with flukes turning up to the sky then slipping silently into the sea only to rise again, at times a few feet from our motionless kayaks.

Yikes, that was close!

Yikes, that was close!

We sat quietly at times just absorbing the stillness and beauty of the bay, and then out of nowhere a loud blow and breath of one or several individuals would momentarily take our breath away. It is hard to describe the sensation that came over us as a 30-ton marine mammal passed us quietly making repeated free falls into the ocean. I felt a tingling sensation throughout my body and soul that was pronounced and profound. An echo of that feeling lasted for days after these encounters. In fact I believe anyone who witnesses such encounters is changed in subtle ways and imbued with a fever of awe for life on earth.

Thar she blows!

Thar she blows!

One does not need to experience such close encounters to be enchanted by these marine dancers of the deep. On multiple occasions we witnessed smaller younger individuals slowly rising and disappearing from afar as if to expand the edges of their aquatic theater and our consciousness. Allowing oneself to become absorbed by this holy sanctuary is balm and tonic for the spirit.

Fortunately, there are many kinds of balm and tonic...

Fortunately, there are many kinds of balm and tonic…

There are many diverse marine mammals that pass through this sanctuary, and we observed an Orca pod about 5 miles out of the Slough in mid-November. One only needs to scan the blog entries of whale watching boats that take non-paddlers to this place to see daily entries of the birds, marine mammals, sharks and fish that have been sighted on any given day. There is also a delightful small museum highlighting the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary at the foot of the long commercial dock near the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. Among the exhibits is a beautiful film on the Sanctuary created by a devoted lover of the Monterey Bay, the extremely talented filmmaker Frank Talbot. That museum attempts divert, if but for a few moments, the attention of the visitors from the Boardwalk to the dazzling ecosystem that stretches out to Monterey across the sand from the roller coasters.

Upside down for joy in the Monterey Marine Santuary

Upside down for joy in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary

The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary was created as a result of hundreds of people with passion, vision, patience and a deep devotion to our water planet. I for one am enormously grateful to all these people and organizations who worked on this process. I am equally grateful to those many people and organizations who work continually to manage, enjoy, utilize and protect this jewel of our water planet.

Questions? Comments? Click below to add your take on marine sanctuaries, swimming with marine mammals, and amazing places to experience our water planet by kayak!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

phil davis December 15, 2015 at 6:02 am

Hi Fellow Kayakers,

Rare Opportunity To Own Legacy of Best Ever Sea Kayaks- Pristine Mariner Kayaks for Sale. Both custom built with all available options at purchase

Im a proud owner of 3 proven seaworthy Mariner kayaks downsizing to take one overseas and 2 of which are for sale. I enjoy paddling in rough heavy weather when others choose to stay home but never beached my boats upon landing and hulls are remarkably pristine.

I’m looking to downsize and sell 2 boats. Im what kids would call an old guy but I took 4th in San Juan Challenge (San Juan Islands WA) my 1st year in the Express and 3rd place two years in row (42 mile 2 day race) in the 2 Mariner II’s against young paddlers

Both boats for sale are Mariner standard glass layup proven rough water fast cruising boats.

Im keeping one of their very last production boats a custom Mariner II graphite/kevlar with rear bulkhead to take overseas.

If interested look forward to your response.



Check the Mariner website for reviews and design details

MARINER EXPRESS YELLOW/ white hull, rear bulkhead and sliding seat
MARINER II/ Light Gray Hull, rear bulkhead and sliding seat
MARINER EXPRESS YELLOW/ white hull, rear bulkhead and sliding seat
MARINER II/ Light Gray Hull, rear bulkhead and sliding seat

1 Mariner Express standard glass lay up with rear bulkhead and sliding seat


Nancy Soares December 17, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Hi Phil! Well, I sure hope you off your kayaks in a satisfactory manner. They sound like good boats. Good luck on your overseas adventures and if you have any you’d like to share with us, let us know!


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