Wrong way, buddy. Photo: CHP, via the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center.

Early this morning or late last night, as the tide was high, a great lumbering California sea lion bull flopped his his way eastward through the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge toward a place that is, for creatures of his ilk, the refuge’s opposite: The shoulder of southbound Highway 101. 

He arrived at his destination and parked on the fog line sometime before 3:30 a.m., at which time a passing motorist spotted the anomaly. We imagine, but cannot confirm, that the anonymous driver noticed the eerie glow of the animal’s eyes lit up by high beams while it was still some distance away, and that the shock he received when the big fella came fully into view instantly rendered superfluous the caffeine he had consumed to get through his midnight journey.

In any case, the driver managed to keep control of his vehicle and called the California Highway Patrol. Patrol officers arrived, closed a lane, put out flares and called, in turn, the people who know what to do in such situations — the folks at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center.

Lynda Stockton, the center’s rescue coordinator, got herself out of bed and responded to the scene. She observed that the sea lion was a male between 200 and 300 pounds, and that he was not injured. There was no obvious explanation for why he chose to plant himself on the side of the highway, looking almost as if he were trying to hitch a ride to Año Nuevo, other than the fact — well known to Stockton — that California sea lions do odd things sometimes.

Stockton and her colleagues threw a net on the animal and then, holding wooden shields, attempted to herd him into a crate. The CHP officers lent a hand. Stockton told the Outpost that at first the beast put up a fight. “He was exhausted, but he was still giving us a hard time,” she said.

At last he succumbed to his fate. The wildlife rescue team drove him off and released him to nature at what Stockton would only call “an undisclosed location.”

And so the story ends. But if you see a California sea lion someplace it shouldn’t be, give the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center a call — the main office is (707) 465-6265, and the seal stranding hotline is (707) 951-4722. That number works for sea lions, too. Also, the center always needs more volunteers and more money. If herding pinnipeds in the dark of night sounds fun to you, or if you’d just like to throw in some change to support such folks’ efforts, check the center’s website at this link.



CORRECTION: This story originally stated that the moon was near full this morning, at the time this incident occurred. A Facebook reader informs us that this is wrong, and that reader is correct. it seems our reporter was looking at a lunar calendar from a different year. The Outpost regrets the error.