By Alex Gallardo
HUNTINGTON BEACH, California (Reuters) - A dolphin who took a wrong turn from the Pacific Ocean into a Southern California wetlands became an unwitting star on Friday when scores of motorists on a nearby busy highway stopped to watch it swim in circles.
The 700-pound (317-kg) mammal was discovered on Friday morning in Bolsa Bay, about 30 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles in the Orange County community of Huntington Beach.
It was swimming in a patch of wetlands near a concrete flood-control gate close to the beach, said Kelly O'Reilly, reserve manager for the California Department of Fish and Game.
She said authorities think the dolphin could find its own way back when the tide comes in, although it will have to swim more than 3 miles to get to open water.
That is because the path the dolphin took to get into the wetlands is not a direct route to the ocean. It skirts the edge of the coast, passing through a marina where boats are docked outside multi-million dollar homes.
Hundreds of passersby stopped to gawk at the dolphin during the day, and traffic slowed along the four-lane Pacific Coast Highway near the stranded animal as drivers parked their cars to take a look, she said.
Rescue workers decided against getting too close to the dolphin or moving it themselves.
"It could smack us and break our ribs, or knock out our teeth or something," O'Reilly said.
"Far better for the animal and us if we just give it some space, back off and as the water gets deeper, hopefully it will figure out how to get out of here," she said.
For now, the dolphin - which appears healthy - is swimming in waters about 6 feet deep, O'Reilly said, adding that she has never heard of a dolphin wandering into those wetlands before.
If the animal does not go back on its own, rescue workers will approach it in kayaks and paddle boards to try to nudge it back in the right direction, O'Reilly said.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)