Ice cuts off dozens of seals’ ac­cess to sea in Cana­dian town

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

LON­DON, ON­TARIO • The in­trud­ers ar­rived dur­ing the night with the wind and high tide. By the morn­ing of Jan 3, it seemed like the lit­tle Cana­dian town had been over­run.

Seals, dozens of them. Seals on the beach, on the streets and drive­ways, in the parks and back­yards.

More than a week later, they are still there in Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, a re­mote lit­tle town on the is­land of New­found­land, Mayor Sheila Fitzger­ald said last Fri­day.

And it has be­come clear that the an­i­mals, hun­gry and dis­tressed, are stranded, un­able to find their way back to sea.

Harp seals spend win­ters in the wa­ters off New­found­land and it is com­mon for them to go ashore at times, and to swim into bays like the long, nar­row in­let that bor­ders Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, said Mr Garry Sten­son, head of the ma­rine mam­mal sec­tion at Canada’s Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans.

“If the ice freezes up be­hind them, they have a harder time get­ting ac­cess to wa­ter,” he told Cana­dian broad­caster CBC. “It’s al­most like they get go­ing in a di­rec­tion and just keep go­ing, hop­ing they’re go­ing to even­tu­ally find wa­ter.”

The seals in Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, each one about 1.5m long and weigh­ing about 136kg, crowded around the town’s two brooks that do not freeze over in the win­ter. They then spread out, rolling around in the deep snow and bark­ing like dogs.

Res­i­dents be­gan to worry that the seals were there to stay through the win­ter – or might starve.

Ms Fitzger­ald said: “They look so cute, but they’re still wild an­i­mals.”

She said the town hall was get­ting calls from peo­ple who had seen pic­tures and videos of the seals on­line, ask­ing why res­i­dents did not help or feed the seals.

But in Canada, it is il­le­gal to dis­turb ma­rine mam­mals – not to men­tion po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous ones – in­clud­ing touch­ing, feed­ing and even get­ting near them.

The mayor said there are at least 40 seals in and around Rod­dick­tonBide Arm, pos­si­bly many more.

Of­fi­cials from the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans are in the town to as­sess the num­ber of an­i­mals and find ways to help them get back to sea.

The sit­u­a­tion is less than ideal for the res­i­dents as well as the an­i­mals.

The seals’ sil­ver-grey fur helps them blend in with the colour of icy roads that are dusted with sand in win­ter. Peo­ple try to avoid the seals, but two of them have died after be­ing run over by ve­hi­cles.

Wildlife ex­perts have warned that, like dogs, the seals can get ag­gres­sive when scared – and bite.

Mil­lions of harp seals live in and around the far north At­lantic and Arc­tic. They are known for their pups, whose white coats help them blend in with snow and ice.

Or­di­nar­ily, the peo­ple of Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm have no prob­lem with the crea­tures, but now, they are ready to get back to their tra­di­tional wildlife boast, that the town is the “Moose Cap­i­tal of the World”.

“We’re ready for them to move on,” Ms Fitzger­ald said. “Right now, the whole of the talk is about seals.”

PHOTO: REUTERS

A stranded seal crawls on the snow on a road in Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, a re­mote town on the is­land of New­found­land, in Canada. Dozens of them, hun­gry and dis­tressed, are un­able to find their way back to the sea.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Of­fi­cers from the Fish­eries and Oceans depart­ment try to cap­ture and re­lo­cate a stranded seal, found near res­i­dences, to open wa­ter.

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