Moss Landing Harbor

A sea otter floats through the water, taking a break
A sea otter floats through the water, taking a break. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3: 1/500 sec. at f/8

Recently I spent a morning photographing the sea life in Moss Landing, California. The harbor at Moss Landing boasts a great variety of sea birds and mammals, and is favorite spot for many sea otters. I woke early and arrived at the harbor at dawn, hoping to catch some of the wildlife in early morning light. Most of the usual suspects were there, including the common loon.

A common loon swims alone through deep water.
A common loon swims alone through deep water. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2/3: 1/1600 sec. at f/7.1

Also seen cruising around the harbor, occasionally diving for food were several surf scoters. A male, resplendent with his colorful beak came close, probably to see if I was one of those fishermen who might have some bait to spare.

A male surf scoter swims through open water
A male surf scoter swims through open water. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 640. Evaluative metering 0 EV: 1/1000 sec. at f/7.1

And then of course, there were the sea otters, probably the most popular attraction at the harbor. I saw about twenty to thirty of them all floating together, either diving and eating, playfully wresting each other in the water, or just floating on their backs, taking a bit of a nap. One otter in particular had an entertaining way of grooming himself. First, he would lick one paw while rubbing the back of his head with his other paw. Then he’d switch paws, slowly cleaning the back and sides of his head.

First licking one paw, and then the other, a sea otter takes turns massaging his head with each paw
First licking one paw, and then the other, a sea otter takes turns massaging his head with each paw. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 640. Evaluative metering +2/3: 1/800 sec. at f/8

After repeating this behavior for several minutes, it was time for the face massage. Opening his mouth, he’d lightly rub his cheeks in small circles. After a while, he really got into what he was doing, opening and closing his mouth and sticking out his tongue occasionally. Abruptly he stopped, and went back to licking his paws and cleaning his head.

A sea otter rubs its face on each side of its mouth, giving itself a gentle massage
A sea otter rubs its face on each side of its mouth, giving itself a gentle massage. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 640. Evaluative metering 0 EV: 1/1600 sec. at f/8

Sea lions and harbor seals were also in attendance at the harbor. Most of the sea lions were crowded on a pier waiting for fishing boats to return and share their left-overs. Unfortunately, the time of day did not cooperate with the only angle of approach I had, and all of my photos were severely back lit. The harbor seals however were busy traveling to and fro, so I had better opportunities with them.

A harbor seal swims just under the surface of the water, head just peeking out
A harbor seal swims just under the surface of the water, head just peeking out. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 640. Evaluative metering -1/3: 1/800 sec. at f/8

As the morning stretched on, more tourists arrived and the harbor started to get crowded. I was happy to have woken early and arrived at dawn, giving me plenty of time in relative solitude with the animals. Pretty soon it was time to leave. The sun was high overhead, most of the wildlife had scattered, and the otters had settled in for a nice long lazy day in the waves.

With arms folded behind its head a floating sea otter lets out a huge yawn
With arms folded behind its head a floating sea otter lets out a huge yawn. Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the EOS-7D. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3: 1/1000 sec. at f/8