Res­cue un­der­way for 40 stranded seals

Hun­gry, dis­ori­ented mam­mals need help, town’s mayor says

The Hamilton Spectator - - Canada & World - ALEX COOKE

Fish­eries of­fi­cials have res­cued eight seals from a small New­found­land town that’s been over­run by dozens of the blub­bery mam­mals for over a week.

Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzger­ald said there are still plenty of way­ward seals roam­ing the town, but she’s happy the fed­eral Fish­eries Depart­ment is work­ing hard to catch and re­turn them to the ocean.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to hav­ing 40 less seal res­i­dents in this area,” she said Sun­day. “It’s just been over­whelm­ing.”

Lo­cated on New­found­land’s Great North­ern Penin­sula, Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm — two com­mu­ni­ties that amal­ga­mated in 2009 — is at the edge of an in­let that has trapped a group of about 40 harp seals in the area after it froze over, leav­ing them hun­gry and dis­ori­ented.

Fitzger­ald said it’s not un­com­mon for the town to get some whiskered vis­i­tors, ex­plain­ing that seals tend to come in and out of the in­let as the ice floe shifts in the re­gion’s wa­ters.

But the sud­den pro­lif­er­a­tion of seals crawl­ing into yards and road­ways this win­ter has drawn a lot of con­cern from both her and lo­cal res­i­dents — es­pe­cially as the an­i­mals grew wea­rier and be­gan cry­ing out as the days went by.

“I’ve been here for over 25 years. I have never, ever, seen this many seals get trapped in­side the ice, when it forms, and get stranded here in town,” she said. “When you go to get gas, you see seals by the gas pump.”

Fitzger­ald said the town reached out to the Fish­eries Depart­ment

for help, and of­fi­cers ar­rived a few days ago to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and work on get­ting them back to their habi­tat.

She said they’re catch­ing the seals with nets and driv­ing them out to En­glee, about 20 kilo­me­tres south, where they are be­ing re­leased into the ocean.

Some res­i­dents, Fitzger­ald said, have been help­ing of­fi­cials catch the seals by herd­ing the “wig­gly” an­i­mals away from roads and into ar­eas where they’re eas­ier to catch.

“It’s been re­mark­able, the com­mu­nity’s re­ac­tions to these seals stranded in town,” she said.

“(We) wanted to make sure these lit­tle crit­ters — they’re so cute — didn’t have any­thing hap­pen to them.”

While they may be cute, the seals have been a nui­sance and prompt­ing safety con­cerns, Fitzger­ald said, as they’ve been block­ing roads, drive­ways and doors, and res­i­dents have been un­able to move them be­cause it’s il­le­gal to touch ma­rine mam­mals.

As well, the seals’ coats can blend in with the snowy roads, and driv­ers have re­ported sev­eral close calls. Two have been struck and killed by ve­hi­cles.

“The re­al­ity is, those seals weren’t go­ing to last ... the en­tire win­ter,” she said. “They needed help, the is­sue wasn’t go­ing to go away on its own.”

On Sun­day, a Fish­eries spokesper­son said of­fi­cers have re­leased eight seals so far and have col­lected two dead seals. Three of the eight seals had signs of an in­jury but were re­leased with­out in­ci­dent, while the other five ap­peared to be healthy.

Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm is home to 999 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent cen­sus, and is de­scribed on its web­site as “the moose cap­i­tal of the world.”

BREN­DON FITZ­PATRICK THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A seal lies on a road in Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, N.L. Fed­eral Fish­eries Depart­ment of­fi­cials have ar­rived in the small town, which is at the edge of an in­let that has trapped the roughly 40 seals after it froze over

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