"Look, he's periscoping." Captain Yohn Gideon is pointing to a harbor seal near our boat. The seal pokes the top half of his head out of the water, looks around, then silently sinks like a scope retracting. It's an amusing sight and a great start to our pontoon-boat tour into Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing, 15 miles north of Monterey.
Today, with the hills a vivid green and the water glassy, it's easy to see why spring is Gideon's favorite time in Elkhorn Slough. Our boat noses into the tidal marsh, and we spot nesting egrets and barking sea lions. But Gideon is looking for pups.
"The slough's safe, calm waters make this a paradise for sea otters and harbor seals," he says. From now into May, you'll find both mammals here ― including many seal and otter pups.
Farther up the inlet, harbor seals jam the banks like so much driftwood. We can make out tiny gray seal pups clinging to their mothers. In the water nearby, we spot three sea otters floating on their backs, each with a youngster riding on its stomach. It's a memorable sight, and our journey closes with that feature of most safaris ― a lot of clicking cameras.
INFO: Reservations are required for Elkhorn Slough Safari tours (daily; $27, $19 ages 14 and under; www.elkhornslough.com or 831/633-5555).