SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - An unusual traffic hazard along Highway 37 in Sonoma County on Monday had officers from the California Highway Patrol and researchers from the Marine Mammal Center playing a game of chicken with a 500 pound wayward elephant seal.
"This is, I think, the fourth time she's come out of water and tried to cross the median on Highway 37," said Barbie Halaska of the Marine Mammal Center. "So we're really afraid that when it gets darker later on she might become a big speedbump."
The seal, believed to be female and possibly pregnant, was first spotted around 1:00 p.m. Monday near the intersection of Highways 37 and 121. "That wall, the center divide wall right here," CHP Officer Andrew Barclay said pointing to concrete barrier where the seal was first seen trying to make her escape. "We quickly realized 500 pounds of elephant seal is not going to be easy to move!"
With the guidance of researchers at the Marine Mammal Center, they used boards to coral the seal back towards the water. "That's where she grabbed the board with her very large powerful mouth," Officer Barclay said pointing to a gouge in a board. "She could actually tear the board from your hands if you don't hold it the proper way," explained Halaska.
Several times the seal was ushered back to the water, only to make a run for the highway again. It kept marine mammal experts and the CHP busy until sunset. "We're waiting to see if she comes back out onto the road," Halaska said. "If she comes back out onto the road, we're hoping to be able to put her into a carrier to take her to a different location."
Elephant seals tend to stay on the ocean side of the Bay. Marine mammal experts don't know how this one got so lost. Those monitoring the seal left at sunset, saying the low tide would make it too difficult for her to get out of the water. They're hoping the elephant seal will go back out in the Bay with the tide. If not, a monitor will be standing lookout when the tide comes back in at 3:00 a.m. Tuesday.