Highway seal released at Point Reyes

A pregnant elephant seal that stopped traffic on state Highway 37 and held would-be rescuers at bay this week was safely relocated to Point Reyes National Seashore Tuesday evening and appeared to be recovering well, Marine Mammal Center officials said today.

The seal, a 900-pound adult female dubbed “Tolay” by staff at the Marin Headlands-based Marine Mammal Center, was released on the edge of an established elephant seal breeding colony at Point Reyes, near another mother seal and her two-day old pup, center spokeswoman Laura Sherr said.

She “handled everything beautifully,” appearing to get her bearings and moving toward the other seals without difficulty, Sherr said.

The animal captured the public’s attention Monday afternoon when she was spotted in the eastbound lane of Highway 37 near Sears Point, apparently trying to climb over the center divider.

Passersby who stopped to try to help her reported that the “very large, very determined” seal attacked their vehicle, California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay said.

The CHP, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Marine Mammal Center staff were able to herd her off the road and back into the water of nearby Tolay Creek and San Pablo Bay, but she made repeated attempts that day to return.

On Tuesday, Marine Mammal Center staff tried to steer the seal back toward the bay and the open ocean beyond, using kayaks and noisemakers, but she stood her ground and slipped past them.

Eventually, a Marine Mammal Center veterinarian was able to sedate her when she came on to dry land. She was then loaded onto a truck bound for Chimney Rock at Point Reyes.

Before her release, veterinarians examined her and found she was in good health. They confirmed that she was pregnant using a blood test and ultrasound, center officials said.

It remains unclear why the seal ended up in San Pablo Bay, but Marine Mammal Center officials said she may have just been lost or disoriented.

December and January are the months when elephant seals typically give birth, and her determination to get to land, even in the wrong location, might have been driven by her pregnancy, center officials said.

Sherr said the area where the seal was released is closed to the public, so Marine Mammal Center staff will not be able to monitor her.

However, she was tagged so they will know if she is spotted again in the future.