A seal on Highway 37 created a 26-hour North Bay standoff when the wayward elephant caused a traffic mess. The seal tried to cross the busy California highway after it emerged from the water, according to Newsday.
The seal was eventually coaxed by animal experts tranquilized as soon as it waddled out of Tolay Creek near Sears Point. The 500-pound beast swam to the north side of Highway 37, but once it was on solid ground, a veterinarian for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito ran up and stuck it with a pole-mounted tranquilizer.
Within minutes, the animal collapsed and stopped moving. Other rescuers rushed in, put the unconscious animal on a tarp and carried it to a waiting truck. Officials planned to examine it and then cart it off to Point Reyes, where it is to be released back into the wild and out of harm’s way.
Up until the moment the seal on Highway 37 was tranquilized, California officials were unsure if their plan would work after several failed attempts to get the portly pinniped to skedaddle back to the deep waters of the bay. “She’s a 900-pound elephant seal, and we’re not. She pretty much does what she wants,” said Barbie Halaska, a research assistant at the mammal center. The wildlife emergency started unfolding about 1 p.m. Monday when the California Highway Patrol got calls reporting that a seal was blocking the slow lane of Highway 37, officials said.
The mammal center dispatched a rescue team, as did the San Pablo Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The CHP was also working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to persuade the seal to swim off to greener pastures.
Officials remain stumped on why the seal, which some rescuers dubbed “Tolay” after the inlet she chose to hole up in, seemed so determined to cross the road.
“We have no idea,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Barclay. “There’s no water or food on the other side of 37, and we checked all along the freeway for anything she might be looking for. There’s nothing.”
The whiskered wanderer appeared healthy and fit, said Halaska, and experts think she might be pregnant. “She’s a beautiful animal who appears to be in perfect health,” Halaska said.
Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, veterinarians from the mammal center broke out some air horns to audibly nudge the seal toward the mouth of the inlet, but she paid them little mind and continued to relax in the low-tide mud. Just before 10 a.m., Halaska and Dave Zahniser, a rescue and response manager from the mammal center, launched a kayak in hopes of encouraging the animal toward the bay.
Things looked hopeful as the seal slowly ambled through the mud in the general direction of open water, prodded by splashing and the sounds of paddles slapping the water. Her exit would have to wait, though. At one point Zahniser and Halaska nudged her with the kayak, prompting the seal to nudge the vessel back and even give it a nibble.
The seal eventually went around the kayak and headed back toward the highway, sending the experts back to the drawing board. During the two-day cat-and-mouse game with animal experts, the seal garnered some fans. Mary Laughlin, 60, of Washington was headed to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena when she heard about the wayward seal on Highway 37 and decided to stop and get a look for herself.
“It’s just so cool to see one this close,” Laughlin said. “Other than an aquarium, you never see them like this. It’s awesome.”