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“For the full-moon paddle, sometimes there’s phosphorescence in the water,” says Julie Hocking, office manager of the education department for the San Diego Natural History Museum. “It’s like a neon green. When I paddle I can create my own little light show in the water.”

On Saturday, July 12, the museum will host a kayak tour of Mission Bay as part of its family education program. The tour begins with a basic paddling lesson, after which kayakers will travel to the bait dock in Quivira Basin, located at the western end of the bay by the Islandia Hotel. “That’s where the sea lions hang out,” says Hocking.

Kayaking, Hocking says, is an ideal way to view wildlife not easily viewable from the shore: “The blue heron nests are five times bigger than I would have expected.” Hocking has seen nests in tall trees along the edge of SeaWorld that borders Mission Bay. “They’re huge — cocktail-table sized — made with big sticks the size of an arm and smaller sticks, all woven together.”

Cormorants can often be seen drying their wings while perched atop telephone wires between SeaWorld and Fiesta Island. “They almost look like scarecrows with their wings out to the sides, hanging out to dry,” says Hocking. Because cormorants dive for food, their outermost layer of feathers does not possess the water-resistant qualities that increase buoyancy as do seagulls or ducks.

The bait dock attracts many animals, including sea lions, birds, and fish like the bat ray. “A female bat ray [a type of stingray] is about six feet in wingspan,” says Dylan Edwards, lead kayak guide for Hike Bike Kayak, a tour group not affiliated with the museum. “They don’t sting or bite or anything like that — you can jump in and swim with them.”

One of the most extraordinary birds Edwards has seen from a kayak in Mission Bay is…the penguin. “You can look over this little fence [at SeaWorld] and can get up close and personal with the penguins, about 30 yards away.”

Edwards has never seen anyone flip a kayak in Mission Bay but says such accidents are not uncommon along the shores of La Jolla. “It usually happens when they’re surfing their kayaks back into shore,” he says, and recommends wearing a helmet “because of all the caves and the risk of hitting your own kayak.”

If one does flip in a kayak, the safety procedure is the same as for surfboarders. “You want to drop down under water, cover your head and neck, and let the waves carry the kayak away from where you are. Even as you surface you want to keep your arms over your head in case that kayak is directly above you.”

Tandem kayaks, commonly used in tours, are not likely to flip, especially in a bay. “These boats are extremely stable and are difficult to upend, even when people are trying,” says Hocking. She recounts one story she’s heard in which Girl Scouts, as part of a lesson on how to reclaim an abandoned canoe, were unable to flip their tandem kayak without assistance.

“Probably the biggest risk in Mission Bay is watching out for the big-boat waves,” says Edwards. “When you’re in a kayak, it’s hard to see some of the motorized boats, so you’ve got to really make an effort to hug the shoreline and stay out of their way.” In August 2005 a Jet Skier collided with a kayaker. The fast-traveling Jet Ski had come around a bend and struck the female kayaker in the back and head. She sustained contusions and fractures in her ribs and vertebra and was hospitalized for four days.

The main attraction of the bay tours is the throng of sea lions loitering by the bait dock. Edwards says the animals fall under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, “so you’re supposed to stay around 20 yards away.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommends a minimum of 50 yards.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop the sea lions from approaching kayaks. “If you kayak towards them, it tends to kind of scare them away,” says Edwards. “But if you kind of paddle by them and then just hold tight for a while with the paddles out of the water, they will often come and check you out.”

— Barbarella

Pelican and Sea Lion Kayak on Mission Bay
Saturday, July 12
9 a.m. to noon
Mission Bay
Reservation required
Cost: $55 members; $65 nonmembers; $20 children
Info: 619-255-0203 http://sdnhm.org/

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