SONOMA, Calif. - Marine Mammal Center officials hope to steer a lost elephant seal out of an inlet near state Highway 37 in Sonoma County Tuesday and back to open water after she stopped traffic with repeated attempts to cross the roadway on Monday.
The seal, a large, healthy female thought to weigh as much as 900 pounds, was initially reported at about 1:15 p.m. Monday blocking traffic in the eastbound lane of Highway 37 near Sears Point and state Highway 121, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay.
The "very large, very determined" seal was reportedly trying to climb over the center divider, and passersby who tried to stop and help her reported that she attacked their vehicle, Barclay said.
CHP, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Marine Mammal Center staff were able to herd the seal off the road but she made repeated attempts to return and efforts to steer her to a different waterway were unsuccessful.
Wildlife officials monitored her overnight while she slept, and as of Tuesday morning said she is back in the water, swimming around.
Barbie Halaska, a research assistant with the Marin County-based Marine Mammal Center, said it is unclear why the seal is trying to cross the road in an area far from where elephant seals usually go.
She appears to be very healthy and shows no sign of illnesses, Halaska said.
One possibility is that she is pregnant and trying to find a place to give birth, but Halaska said there is no way to confirm that short of an ultrasound.
"I think she's just gotten a little bit disoriented," Halaska said. "We're not quite sure why she's up here, she should be outside on the ocean side in the Point Reyes or Ano Nuevo areas."
Halaska plans to get in the water in a kayak this morning and attempt to drive the seal out of the inlet she is in and back toward the larger Bay and the Golden Gate.
Barclay said he is the only CHP officer currently on scene, but others will be summoned to assist if the seal tries to re-enter the highway.