Tag Archive: Santa Cruz


Winter is truly an outstanding time to kayak among the seals and sea otters of Elkhorn Slough. Blue Water Ventures offers naturalist-led adventures through out the year. California schools join us regularly in for a highly educational field trip to Elkhorn Slough.

Elkhorn Slough it is simply the best spot for viewing wildlife. There are easily 20-30 otters in the harbor as we launch our stable sea kayaks. There is fabulous viewing very close to where we launch so great for 5th grade classes or older.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our Elkhorn Slough curriculum typically includes: wetlands ecology, endangered species, natural history of sea otters, harbor seals, sea birds. Etc and cultural history. Leadership and teamwork are key components of your field trip.

After lunch, we will pull a large seine net which students LOVE! We love their enthusiasm…doesn’t matter what we catch! They will want to keep trying!

We offer a leisurely paced, f ull day in Elkhorn Slough (9:30-2:00) for only $38 per person with a complimentary trip for one teacher.

if parents are driving, they often join us which can be helpful. Parent chaperones also pay the student rate of $38. We feel we offer something really unique as most other outfitters just spend time on the water.

Hope you will join us!

Kim Powell, MRPA
Owner, Operator & Naturalist
Blue Water Ventures
phone & fax: 831-459-8548
email: bluewaterventuressc@gmail.com
127 Mason St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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ADSC00723Once again, “pinheads” what the local fisherman call immature anchovies, have moved close into the Bay attracting an array of predators from brown pelicans to humpback whales.


DSC00739We thought that perhaps the whales were on their way to the coast of Mainland Mexico where they will give birth and care for their calves before making the journey back to our coast to feed. With these tasty anchovies still around, so are the whales. Enjoy the frenzy while it lasts! http://www.bluewaterventures.org.DSC00709


Fantastic discovery today while kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough. We found an  enormous  California brown sea hare, Aplysia californica, a type of marine  slug in the phylum mollusca. Enjoying a hermaphroditic life style, this fascinating guy or girl as the case may be emitted a mildly toxic purple dye as I scooped it up and placed  it on  my spray skirt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



Using their raspy tongue or file like structure known as a radula, sea hares scrap into their algae diet which later  aids in the pigmentation of their ink. Why do sea hares as well as their relatives, octopus and squid emit a dye? Perhaps the cloud of purple confuses or startles a predator or serves as a screen or decoy. Possessing some of the largest nerve cells in the animal kingdom, sea hares have been used in studies on memory and learning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy group of kayakers though a bit startled, politely watched as I rolled myself face first into the sand while still cradling the sea hare in my arms. Covered with purple dye from head to toe, I do think they realized what a special find we had!

Join the naturalist of Blue Water Ventures as we explore Central California, Baja, Belize, Tonga and beyond!





There are those teachable moments be it in a traditional classroom or in an outdoor setting, that both student and teacher will never forget. On the final day of Coastal Kayak Explorer’s Camp we shared one of those moments.

Each summer Blue Water Ventures  based in Santa Cruz, CA  offers a variety of marine science camps. Kim Powell, owner of Blue Water Ventures leads our summer camps.  Kim has been conducting wilderness expeditions for students since 1985. She is a certified sea kayaking instructor through the American Canoe Association and Wilderness First Responder.  Kim loves sharing her knowledge of the marine world through a fun and informative approach. She has been the Director of Marine Science Camps in several  Caribbean locations in addition to Central California.

Here we go down under in Search of Sea Creatures.


We’ve also had extraordinary viewing of sea otters this fall down in Elkhorn Slough. Plenty of space on our scheduled kayaking trips December through January 2013. Teachers, you still have ample time to get your students on a naturalist-led field trip to kayak among our seals and sea otters of the Slough.



Join Blue Water Ventures as we search for whales abd wildlife in the incredible Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary!

Here’s what happened today, May 6th 2012

Took my neighbors out for a early morning paddle to check out our local sea otters when we encountered 2 mama gray whales and their babies resting in the kelp beds off of West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 

Our first encounter really caught us off guard as a baby whale surface 25 feet from our boat. We had just been enjoying activity off of seal rock when a baby whale popped up without any warning. Very incredible! 

We quickly backed up, tapping our boat letting the youngster know our location.

As we were heading back towards Cowels Cove, two more gray whales suddenly appeared without any warning as seen in this video. They seemed to be resting in the kelp beds and clearly spyhopped to check us out.

Whales are known to raise their heads out of the water to take a look around, a behavior referred to as spyhopping. They may have been intrigued by not only us, but the surfers who were just beyond the whales.

What an amazing day and its not even noon!


Join Blue Water Ventures every year as we lead groups of intrepid thrill seekers to view Elephant Seals found basking, fighting, birthing and mating along the California Coast. Our destinations include seal rookeries at Ano Nuevo, Piedras Blancas and Point Reyes.

We offer hikes for all ages. April-May is very popular with our school field trip program at Ano Nuevo where the weaned pups known as “weaners” are frolicking in the puddles.

January finds our naturalist on the road to Piedras Blancas, south of Big Sur for incredible viewing during the height of mating season.

Our summer Marine Science and Kayaking Camp includes a day at Ano Nuevo when the massive males have returned from Alaska to molt.


Never a dull Blue Water moment when it comes to watching Elephant Seals–Join us!

Join Blue Water Ventures every february in Baja  as we explore the underwater world of  gray whales and other marine wonders.  We’ll seek eye to eye encounters with California gray whales, snorkel with sea lions and offer an opportunity to swim with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark.


For centuries, California gray whales  have traveled 10,000 miles round trip between their summer feeding grounds in Alaska and their winter breeding/calving grounds in the Pacific lagoons of Baja. Traveling in small skiffs into Magdalena Bay, we will wait for the whales to approach us. Close encounters are a common occurrence and quite thrilling. Naturalist-led beach hikes and kayaking excursions through the mangroves of Magdalena Bay will also be offered. In the ruggedly beautiful Espiritu Santos Island in the Sea of Cortez we will kayak, snorkel, fish, hike and relax from our dramatically scenic beach camp. At both sites, we have the comfort and ease of boat supported base camps.

As I pack up for our upcoming Baja Adventure, I reflect upon what an amazing year we had in 2011. There were so many outstanding highlights some captured in these photos. I have led trips to Caribbean Reefs for decades and was extreme tidepooling as a kid long before I coined the term. What fuels my soul are the people who join my Blue Water adventures.

Taking 10 year olds snorkeling with eye level views of sea otters or plunging into a Sierra stream is pure bliss, medicine for the soul. I’ve shared Elkhorn Slough with wonderful families who really care about the ecological wonders of one of California’s last wetlands.

My trips for women are more like adventures with great friends. I feel so lucky to have an amazing following of women, many who return for every adventure I throw their way. We have spent a day underground kayaking below the Belizean rain forest, snorkeled at night with bioluminescence draped over the reef, sailed the blue and thrown ourselves off granite rocks in the Sierras. Its been an unforgettable year of wildlife encounters……baby manatees, massive whale sharks, gray whales and tiny frogfish, all so awesome in their own right. Kayaking among the Humpback Whales of Santa Cruz last fall was a lifetime high point.

Funniest trip moment? Dr Ruth finding herself trapped in a broken elevator with a keg of beer, Florida Springs trip. The Ocala firefighters were on it!

I am faced with some personal challenges as I care for Mama Bear and juggle time spent with her and travel. My trips are healing during this challenging journey. I treasure each day I have with Bear. Having her in my life is truly a gift. On my Blue Water adventures, I am rejuvenated by sharing the wonders of the world with those who follow.

In 2011, I loss a dear friend, Jim Bitler who I dedicate this year to. Jim was one of the greatest naturalist and historians of modern times. Jim was an inspiration, friend and devoted partner who enriched my life and countless others.

I thank my Blue Water Ventures community for these memories and lessons I’ve learned from each of you along the way.

May the Wild-Life be with us in 2012!

Kim Powell, MRPA
Owner, Operator & Naturalist
Blue Water Ventures
phone & fax: 831-459-8548
email: bluewaterventures@sbcglobal.net
108 Mason St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

It started with an excited cry from Biology Teacher, Jane Orbuch ” Kim, there’s a whale”. I had just led 14 San Lornezo Valley High School students by kayak to the kelp beds edging a surf break known as Indicators in Santa Cruz. We were just about to begin a lesson in Kelp Forest Ecology. Slipping off of their sit on top style boats and into the invigorating 55 degree water, the students were anticipating an eye level encounter with sea otters, harbor seals, top snails and other wonders of this remarkable marine ecosystem. Humpback Whales were not in the lesson plan.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has recently been coined the "Serengeti of the Sea". The Sanctuary lies within a biologically rich pathway intersecting the migration patterns of an array of marine mammals, sea birds and even our planet's most elusive and largest sea turtle, the Leatherback. 26 species of marine mammals are found in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest federally protected marine reserve in the United States.

Jane's discovery was the beginning of one of the most unique 12 days of wildlife observation in my 27 years as a naturalist. Humpback whales, weighing 80-90,000 pounds and reaching a length of 50 feet rarely meander close to our shore where water depths average 30-40 feet. Their visits to shallow water are more typically ethereal, making an appearance for a few hours or a day. Humpbacks are filter feeding whales that use their fringed plates of baleen to sort out krill, a small crustacean that congregate over the plankton rich Monterey Bay Canyon. Humpbacks are known to switch their food selection to larger bait fish such as anchovies and sardines when the situation presents itself. Our visiting whales developed quite a taste for anchovies that were schooling close to shore. The magical 12 day journey had begun.

As the students slowly paddled offshore, I glanced at my fore arm and noticed that every hair stood erect. I was virtually speechless, a condition that my students have rarely witnessed over the years of my interpreting ocean wonders. The four instructors managed to share a few Cetacean facts and viewing etiquette. In truth, it was an extraordinary educational moment that required no words. The whales were centered stage and the students witnessed an array of behaviors from pectoral fin slapping to the most impressive behavior of all, a breach, when a whale propels its body out of the the water followed by a dramatic plunge downward. Lingering in our memory bank will be the unforgettable scent of anchovy breathe expelled through the blow hole of an exuberant whale. As we paddled back to shore, one student proclaimed: "This had been the best day of my life".

One of the most profound experiences of my life occurred several days later. Launching from the Santa Cruz Wharf, a friend and I made our way by kayak toward an area where we had seen a few spouts. As we neared the vicinity where the whales were last spotted, we stopped paddling and drifted. Without much warning, we found ourselves surrounded by a pod of very energetic sea lions. We observed them quickly alter their course and leap out of the water, a behavior known as " porpoising" which occurs when seals pursue prey or are being pursued by a predator such as a White Shark or Orca. The prey, in this case were anchovies feeding on a rich soup of plankton.

As the sea lions rocketed towards us, our immediate instinct was to back paddle. We started tapping our plastic vessel letting any stealthy 50 ton visitor know our location. Then one of the most incredible moments of my twenty seven year career as a naturalist occurred. As we drifted and tapped, a humpback whale gently raised its head out of the water approximately five feet from us. This astounding behavior is known as "spy hopping", when a whale approaches an object such as a boat to take a better look. The whale's eye will either be slightly above water or just below as the whale glances upward through the water column. We were being checked out by a 90,000 pound creature.

As quietly as it had arrived, the whale sunk back below the blue hued sea. I struggle to find the words to express the feeling that flooded through every pore of my body. We were in awe and overloaded by the adrenaline that pulsated through us.

Several days later on a Sunday, I led my one and only commercial trip to experience the whale phenomena that was occurring in Santa Cruz through my business, Blue Water Ventures. Before launching, I instructed my group of kayakers on proper whale etiquette and informed them that they would be escorted back to shore if instructions were not followed.

The image as we departed Santa Cruz Harbor will stay with me for years to come. The interest in viewing had exploded since earlier that week when there were just three of us and the whales. It was a view of ecotourism gone astray and we were contributing to it. Federal law requires us to stay 100 yards away, the length of a football field, from any marine mammal. Just leaving the harbor brought us too close as we soon discovered that the whales were positioned just outside Santa Cruz Harbor. The horizon was hauntingly still, though noisy with the image of human bodies standing upright on boards, kayakers, boogie boarders, surfers, sail boats and motorized skiffs. Moments later a helicopter circled above. Unbelievably whale watching by helicopter had arrived on the scene. Though thrilled to share the whale experience with my respectful group of women, I was eager to get them safely back to shore and give the whales the space they required to feed. We saw very little spy hopping that day. Humans floating on some form of plastic or fiberglass vessel were no longer a novelty and perhaps more of a nuisance. I soon cancelled my upcoming plans to kayak with the whales and turned inquiring customers away.

My hope was that the whales were well fed, fat, happy and on their way to tropical seas. Forty eight hours later, the anchovies were gone and so were the whales.

Kim Powell is owner, operator and head naturalist at Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Offering naturalist-led field trips for students and adventurous vacations for adults designed to be relaxing with an educational component. Kim has been organizing single and multiple day excursions to extraordinarily beautiful places since 1985. Find out more at http://www.bluewaterventures.org * photo credits to Jenna Slovis, Clarissa Flores and Kim Powell

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