SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) — Rescue crews from the Marine Mammal Center late Tuesday afternoon were able to successfully sedate and remove a wayward elephant seal that had stopped traffic trying to cross Highway 37, officials said.
The Marine Mammal Center biologists shot the seal with a tranquilizer shortly after 3 p.m. and waited for it to take effect before loading the animal onto a flat-bed truck that they rented from U-Haul.
The elephant seal was loaded onto the truck and transported to Chimney Rock at Point Reyes National Seashore for release. The location is an established colony for elephant seals.
Veterinarians from the Marin Mammal Center confirmed that the seal was in good health. They were also able to confirm that the animal is pregnant after taking a blood sample and performing an ultrasound. Elephant seals typically give birth in December or January.
Multiple attempts by the Center’s rescue team to direct the large mammal back into San Pablo Bay with a kayak Tuesday morning proved unsuccessful.
Wildlife officials had been working to corral the elephant seal, which weighs an estimated 900 pounds, since Monday afternoon.
“It is going to involve a lot of people, a lot of man and woman power,” according to center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli.
The seal 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 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 she was 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 was trying to cross the road in an area far from where elephant seals usually go, with no available food or shelter nearby.
“She appears to be very healthy and shows no sign of illnesses,” Halaska said.
Workers have become so fond of her that they have nicknamed her Tolay, after the nearby creek.
Everyone in on her plight seems sympathetic.
“I could be doing paperwork right now like a normal day or I could be out with you all and this beautiful animal,” said Dave Zahniser of the Marine Mammal Center. “This is a good day.”
“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.”
In the meantime, if anyone can think of a better name for her than ‘Tolay’ KPIX 5 would like to hear those suggestions. Post them on our Facebook Page.