Morro Bay, California: Sea otters, sea lions and seagulls, oh my!

Morro Rock is the focal point of Morro Bay, California. (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Morro Rock is the focal point of Morro Bay, California. (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

While the focal point of Morro Bay, California, is Morro Rock, one of nine extinct volcanic peaks found along the central coast, the sea life in the bay itself is what attracted me most on a recent visit.

Along with a group of fellow travel writers, I boarded Sub Sea Tours’ SSV Seaview, a 21-passenger vessel with a viewing room located beneath the surface, for a tour of the calm bay waters. Kevin Winfield, who offered to take us out for what is normally a 45-minute narrated tour, was our able and very entertaining boat captain and guide. A former sport fishing captain, he and his wife have owned the business since 2000.

SubSea Tours' Seaview Boat (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette) Captain Kevin Winfield, Sub Sea Tours (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

My main desire was to see and photograph the sea otters, which inhabit the bay in sufficient numbers that Capt. Kevin can provide a fairly certain guarantee that they’ll be seen. Soon after we left the dock, they were sighted, floating on their backs, feasting on mussels, crab and other crustaceans found in Morro Bay. Then they would disappear, diving under to seek out the next course of their seafood meal. Later, two were swimming side by side, eating crabs they’d retrieved from the bottom, when seagulls arrived to try to get a piece of the action.

Sea Otters on Morro Bay, California

As I and several other shutterbugs aboard zoomed in and captured countless images of their antics, I could see why they are sometimes referred to as “clowns of the sea.”

Two otters with bird  Two Otters with flying bird

Young sea otter with musselsSea otter eating crab

Otter eating crab

sea otter eating mussels

Sea otter eating with paws, Morro Bay, California

Sea lions were also in abundance in the bay area, sleeping or resting near or on top of each other on a wooden platform in the middle of the bay and on docks near anchored boats and businesses along the water’s edge. Their expressions and body positions also entertain and fascinate. I recall being in the water with them in the Galapagos islands where they swirled in and out around us as we snorkeled, and also as we walked among them in large numbers on several beaches there.

Sea lion love, Morro Bay, California (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

Sea lion at rest, Morro Bay, California

Sea lions on platform, Morro Bay, California

Sea lions on dock, Morro Bay, California

Young sea lion, Morro Bay, California

Sea lions swimming near dock, Morro Bay, California


The California sea otter, found from Half Moon Bay to Morro Bay is designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, due to past overhunting for their beautiful fur, among other reasons, including reduced range and population size, vulnerability to oil spills, and oil spill risk from coastal tanker traffic, with current population numbers estimated to be around 2,800.

In contrast, the California sea lion population numbers are near 240,000, making their status listed as of “Least Concern” due to its large and increasing population size. Even so, they are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, which outlaws hunting, killing, capture, and harassment of the animal.


Sea birds also were captured as they “fished” for their dinner.

Bird with its "fresh catch," Morro Bay, California

Since the SSV Seaview is Coast Guard approved as a semi-submersible vessel, we checked out the viewing room located beneath the surface, where passengers can see schools of fish and marine life from inside the boat. Food tossed over the side of the boat really brings them close, making this feature especially popular with children, according to Capt. Kevin. But big kids like us had a great time with it, too, especially when “Jaws” made a surprise visit!

Underwater Viewing Room, Sub Sea Tours (Photo: Debbra Dunning Brouillette)

We also reveled in the views from the boat of Morro Rock, where seabirds could be seen perching and roosting. The area surrounding the base of Morro Rock can be visited and hiking trails near it are well used.

Morro Rock, birds perching and roosting

Law forbids climbing on the 581-foot high rock, protected as the Morro Rock State Preserve, and it became national news on the day we arrived. A trespassing climber, who climbed the rock to propose to his girlfriend via Facetime, then got stuck on the way down, was rescued by helicopter. You can read the story here.

Sea birds, Morro Bay, California

Fishermen could be seen cleaning their catch while the masts of sailboats in the distance reached toward the gray mist that kept the sun hidden for most of our time on the water.

Fishermen bringing in their catch, Morro Bay

Morro Bay boats in mist

Morro Rock white and red boats

Thanks, Captain Kevin, for an afternoon to remember.

Captain Kevin, Sub Sea Tours, Morro Bay, California
Regular prices for the Sub Sea Boat Tour is $18 for adults, $14 for seniors (65+) and Students, and $10 for children (3-12); 2 and under are free. A Spring Special was going on while we were there, reducing prices by $4.
Sub Sea Tours, located in the harbor area known as the Embarcadero fronting the bay, also offers whale-watching tours in a larger 33-ft. 22-passenger power catamaran, M/V Dos Osos, and rents canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Private charter services and ash scattering memorial services are also offered.

Sub Sea Tours entrance, Morro Bay, California

For more information, contact Captain Kevin or one of his staff at (805) 772-9463 or visit the website: subseatours.com

19 Comments on “Morro Bay, California: Sea otters, sea lions and seagulls, oh my!

  1. GREAT pictures! Love the one of the sea lions staring back at you. The sea otters were adorable as well and can’t believe how they just munch on the crabs while on their backs. What a life!

    • I love sea lions, too, Janice. Their poses and expressions won me over when I saw so many of them in the Galapagos. I hadn’t seen sea otters before this excursion so they really captivated me. I’d love to have a daily seafood feast on seafood like they do!

  2. What a wonderful trip around Morro Bay! Those are some great pictures of the sea otters and sea lions…the otters really do look cute, feasting on those crab like that. And yes, that picture of the sea lions staring straight into your lens, it won me over.
    I love nature, especially sea life. Thanks for sharing.

    • Bex, love your name abbreviation! I am with you… Anything that lives in or around the sea fascinates me. So glad you enjoyed my post and the photos!

  3. This must have been a great trip, Debbra. I love sea otters! There is nothing more endearing that seeing them float on their backs and using their little bellies as table tops. Morro Bay is a great place to observe sea lions, seals and sea otters but I think the best one is Point Lobos in the Monterey Peninsula, further north.

    • Yes, it was, Anda! I will remember Point Lobos for my next trip to California. I haven’t yet made it to that part of the state. There is just so much to see in California!

  4. We spent some time in Morro Bay a few years ago and loved it. Didn’t see any otters though. We get get to see the elephant seal colony up the coast a little way, which was fantastic.

    • I really wanted to see the elephant seals! I was very near there on my last morning when we toured Hearst Castle but there wasn’t time before leaving for the airport. Next time, I won’t miss them!

  5. The sea otters were a highlight and so much fun to watch. Morro Bay was a fun spot! Wonderful photos. You captured it!

    • Thanks, Karen! It was an unexpected and delightful outing! I’m glad you and Bellini were able to be on board for the experience!

  6. Thanks Debra for the wonderful write-up on Sub Sea Tours. It was great meeting you and your crew! Looks like you guys have a lot of fun together. I have been sanding, painting, woodworking every day since we went out on the boat. I love your website and it looks like you have designed an awesome lifestyle. Have a wonderful day 🙂

    Cheers
    Kevin Winfield

    • You are quite welcome, Capt. Kevin! It was so gracious of you to take our group out on short notice for a tour of Morro Bay. We thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks, too, for your comments on the website. Stop by again whenever you’re ready for some tropical inspiration!

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