Cana­di­ans won­der what to do with stranded seals

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - News - BY PALKO KARASZ

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, seals on streets and drive­ways, seals in 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 Fri­day.

And it has be­come clear that the an­i­mals, hun­gry and dis­tressed, are stranded, un­able to find their way back to the 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 ocean in­let that bor­ders Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, said Garry Sten­son, head of the ma­rine mam­mal sec­tion at Canada’s Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans.

“Then 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 that they’re go­ing to even­tu­ally find wa­ter that way.”

At first the seals in Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, each one about 5 feet long and weigh­ing about 300 pounds, crowded around the town’s two brooks that do not freeze over in the win­ter. Then they 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.

“They’re very cute lit­tle crea­tures,” Fitzger­ald in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “They look so calm when you just look at them; they look so cute, but they’re still wild an­i­mals.”

She said the town hall was get­ting calls from peo­ple who have seen pic­tures and video of the seals on­line, ask­ing why res­i­dents do not help or feed the seals. But in Canada, it is il­le­gal to dis­turb ma­rine mam­mals – not to men­tion po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous – in­clud­ing touch­ing, feed­ing and even get­ting near them.

There are at least 40 seals in and around Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm, pop­u­la­tion 999, the mayor said, and pos­si­bly many more.

Of­fi­cials from the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans are in the town, on New­found­land’s moun­tain­ous and sparsely pop­u­lated Great North­ern Penin­sula, to as­sess the num­ber of an­i­mals and find a strat­egy to help them get back to sea.

The sit­u­a­tion is less than ideal for the peo­ple as well as the an­i­mals. The seals’ sil­ver-gray fur makes them blend in with the color of icy roads that are dusted with sand in the win­ter months.

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