Marine Mammal Center sedates, relocates pregnant elephant seal

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After several failed attempts to redirect Tolay, a pregnant elephant seal away from state Highway 37, wildlife officials have sedated the animal and loaded it onto a truck bound for an established elephant seal colony at Chimney Rock on the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Veterinarians confirmed that the seal is healthy and in good condition. Using a blood test and an ultrasound they also confirmed that she's pregnant, according to the Marine Mammal Center.
Center officials spent the morning attempting to nudge the adult female seal away from Tolay Creek (her namesake) back toward San Pablo Bay and the open ocean beyond using a kayak and noisemakers, but the animal resisted their efforts.
It was quite an undertaking, however. The area around the creek is muddy and the seal, which wildlife officials described as healthy and in good condition, weighs in at an estimated 900 pounds.
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 this morning she was back in the water, swimming around.
Barbie Halaska, a research assistant with the Marin County-based Marine Mammal Center, said it was unclear why the seal was trying to cross the road - but that such behavior could be driven by the animal's pregnancy.

"So this beach is a normal elephant seal rookery," explained veterinarian Cara Field with the Marine Mammal Center. "So this is exactly where this adult female elephant seal should be giving birth." Field believes the seal's condition contributed to her getting lost in the estuary off Highway 37, and confused determination to get across the road.

Elephant seals tend to give birth this time of year, in December or January, according to Marine Mammal Center officials.

"We were honestly surprised that this animal was as cooperative as she was," said Laura Chapman, rescue coordinator for the Marine Mammal Center. The seal had spent a day and a half rebelling against efforts to help.

After all that rebellion and a tranquilizer, Tolay didn't have the same vigor. She had to be prodded out of the back of a pickup truck, and then lumbered a few paces before laying to rest.

"This is the perfect place for her to be," Chapman said. "It's quiet, it's protected, there's other species, and she won't be bothered. So it's a great spot for her and her new baby."

Another baby seal was born on the same shore Monday.

On Wednesday the area will be closed to the public to protect the pups. "So she'll be able to take a long nap," said Chapman. "Which is exactly what she needs right now."