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Juvenile elephant seal rescued in Petaluma

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A wayward juvenile northern elephant seal dubbed “Chumley” apparently took two wrong turns coming out of the Petaluma River and ended up in a parking lot Sunday before being rescued and taken to a marine mammal center.

The mammal was first spotted about 5:40 a.m. Sunday on dry land heading for Lakeville Highway and Baywood Drive, said Mark Scott, Petaluma’s senior animal control officer and animal services operations supervisor.

Petaluma police and animal control officers found the animal on the pavement but it was able to make its way back into the water.

“OK, we’re good,” Scott recalled, thinking the elephant seal was on its way back to the ocean.

But about 7:40 a.m. callers reported seeing a seal in the same area and officers found it this time wandering in the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel near the Petaluma Marina, apparently having come up a boat ramp.

“It was scooting along trying to get away, going the wrong way,” Scott said. “It apparently had gotten turned around in the river channel and wandered onto land, which isn’t the place where he should be.”

While the mammal didn’t appear to be injured or sick, it wasn’t acting properly, including letting people get close to it, Scott said. Morning traffic was picking up and animal control officers decided to step in.

It took about 10 minutes to corral the elephant seal, cover it in a net and herd it into an animal services utility trailer where it was guided up a low ramp and into a container. By about 8:20 a.m. she was on her way to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.

The mammal was examined Monday by Dr. Cara Field, a vet at the center, who found she was a she, weighing 235 pounds and about 8 months old based on her teeth size, said center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli in an email. The elephant seal’s age showed she was well beyond weaning stage, and her overall appearance and size showed she was foraging fine for food. If blood work confirms the mammal is healthy, she’ll be released to Chimney Rock in the Point Reyes National Seashore, where elephant seals are active.

The Petaluma River isn’t historically an area frequented by elephant seals, said Rulli.

Mammal Center workers routinely want a name for the animals they help, and asked the Petaluma animal control officers Sunday to do the honors.

Zabrina Parks, who helped Scott with the effort, said she thought of the old television cartoon “Tennessee Tuxedo” and his walrus friend and offered the name “Chumley,” not knowing yet the sex of the mammal. “I was going to go for Mr. or Miss Chumley,” she said.

Rulli said anyone finding a sick or injured seal or sea lion should keep a safe distance away of at least 50 feet or more and call the center’s rescue hotliine at 415-289-SEAL (7325) for help.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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