Harp seals invade Canadian town
Roddickton-Bide Arm is a quaint coastal town on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, Canada.
It is also a community facing a menacing threat, one that, in the telling of a local newspaper, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling 1963 classic “The Birds.”
But in the far eastern reaches of North America, the assault isn’t aerial. It arrives by sea.
Several dozen harp seals have overrun the town of about 1,000, which may need to amend its designation as the “Moose Capital of the World” if the marine mammal influx continues. The spotted gray animals have been popping up all over Roddickton-Bide Arm.
Some say they started arriving around Christmas. Others claim to have seen them weeks before. But it was the second week of January when they became unmissable. They crawl down roads. They populate parking lots and gas stations. They appear in driveways and backyards.
This is hardly a scene from a Hitchcock film. But it’s not a feel-good story either. Two seals were struck by cars and killed this month, authorities confirmed. The animals’ slick gray coat tends to blend in with the road.
Residents have been unable to help, as national regulations make it illegal to touch marine mammals, though enforcement has proven difficult. So locals have watched as the seals search for food and water, sometimes crying out.
“This is disturbing for the residents to watch,” the town’s mayor, Sheila Fitzgerald, told CTV News. “We are getting inundated with phone calls from people that are saying, ‘You’ve gotta do something. The seals are in my driveway,’ or ‘The seals, I see them suffering.’ ”
The seals may be puzzled by their new surroundings, but the reason they have come ashore is straightforward. Scientists with the country’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans said harp seals migrate south from the Arctic each winter. Early in the season, when it’s still relatively warm, there tends to be little ice near the shore, so the animals hug the coastline. But if the water freezes behind them, they have trouble returning to the open ocean. Disoriented, some find their way to land.
The problem could be compounded by thinning ocean ice, which scientists see as among the alarming consequences of climate change. Harp seals depend on ice cover to mate and breed, and disruptions could also affect their migration schedule.