Seals on roads, seals in drive­ways, seals at front doors: Cana­dian town faces a marine in­va­sion

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Isaac Stan­ley-becker

Rod­dick­ton-bide Arm is a quaint coastal town on the north­ern penin­sula of the is­land of New­found­land, Canada.

It also is 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 Rod­dick­tonBide Arm.

Some say they started ar­riv­ing around Christ­mas. Oth­ers claim to have seen them weeks be­fore. But it was last week 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 on Tues­day, au­thor­i­ties con­firmed to the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion. The slick gray coat worn by the an­i­mals tends to blend in with the road.

Res­i­dents have been un­able to help, as na­tional reg­u­la­tions make it il­le­gal to touch marine mam­mals, al­though 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 mayor told the CBC that she thinks the an­i­mals are con­fused. “They’re piti­ful to look at. I mean, they haven’t eaten,” she said.

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 told Cana­dian me­dia that 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 then freezes be­hind them, they have trou­ble get­ting back out 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; with less ice along the shore, the an­i­mals may be beck­oned closer to land. In new anal­y­sis pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Sci­ence, sci­en­tists warned that the oceans were warm­ing more rapidly than pre­vi­ously thought and ex­hib­ited the high­est tem­per­a­tures on record in 2018.

Now, the mayor told NPR, the an­i­mals are get­ting lazy, “a lit­tle more tired and lethar­gic.” There isn’t a food sup­ply to sus­tain them through the win­ter, but the an­i­mals, who typ­i­cally go on land only to breed and rest, can’t bring them­selves to move on. Seals store enough fat in their blub­ber to go nu­mer­ous days with­out eat­ing.

The De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans said Thurs­day it is try­ing to get a han­dle on the sit­u­a­tion, with the as­sis­tance of the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice in New­found­land and Labrador.

The fed­eral agency said its of­fi­cers have re­moved some seals and are con­tin­u­ing to do so. A re­sponse team has been dis­patched to Rod­dick­ton-bide Arm.

Joe Rae­dle, Getty Images

A harp seal pup near the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.