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Kayaking in the Sanctuary

kayaker on monterey bayA kayaking trip in the sanctuary can provide lasting memories and is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Teeming with wildlife, the sanctuary's kelp forests and placid wetlands (Elkhorn Slough) are ideal places to paddle. If you float quietly and look closely, you may see crabs, jellies or other small animals. Brown pelicans, cormorants, loons, grebes and other fish-eating birds are commonly seen diving for prey and huge numbers of shorebirds stopover in the slough during migration. You are also very likely to see seals, sea lions or sea otters. During your exploration, please remember the animals you encounter are easily frightened. Enjoy them from a distance! Also look for our "Team OCEAN" volunteers in sanctuary kayaks who will help you learn more about wildlife.

kayakers in elkhorn sloughWildlife Viewing Tips

Although it may be tempting to approach marine mammals and birds for a closer look, these are protected, wild animals. It is against federal law to disturb them or cause them to change their behavior. For your sake and theirs:

  • Observe from a distance! You are too close if an animal starts to stare, fidget or flee. Slowly and quietly back away. Stay at least 150 feet or 46 meters away, whether they are in the water, on rocks or the shoreline.
  • Watch quietly. Rest is important (especially for seal and sea otter moms and pups) and you'll see more of their natural behaviors.
  • Stay away from animals that appear sick, injured or abandoned. Some animals beach themselves on purpose to rest. Mother seals often leave pups behind while feeding offshore. Even a lone pup is probably not abandoned!
  • Don't feed wildlife. Human food can attract them and make them sick, a potentially dangerous situation for all.
  • Report sick or injured marine mammals to the Marine Mammal Center
    • San Francisco Bay area: (415) 289-7325
    • Monterey or Santa Cruz: (831) 633-6298
    • San Luis Obispo County: (805) 771-8300
  • Report animal disturbance to NOAA Office for Law Enforcement
    • Sanctuary Enforcement: (831) 647-4203
    • Hotline (24 hours/day): (800) 853-1964

Keep Sanctuary Waters Clean

Animals can get entangled in marine debris or mistake it for food. Please stow your trash for disposal in port and pick up any floating trash you see.

kayakers in kelp bedsBe Safe

Consider the skill limits of your group. Plan your routes and be aware of changing weather. You may encounter fog, wind, strong currents and large surf. Check with local kayak shops for current ocean conditions. Suggested safety equipment includes a lifejacket, pump, paddle float, wet-quit, flotation bags for decked boats, and a safety kit.

Kayak Access Points

Check out information about popular launching sites.

Useful Links


The Sanctuary's Team OCEAN program trains knowledgeable volunteers to kayak in Elkhorn Slough and along the kelp beds off Cannery Row in Monterey. These volunteer docents greet other kayakers and share information about natural history and respectful wildlife viewing. See the Team OCEAN web page for more information.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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