Lost Seals Invade Small Newfoundland Town

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Seals at the mouth of a frozen brook in Roddickton-Bide Arm on Jan. 4. This brook is 4 to 5 miles from the ocean, according to the photographer. Brendon FitzPatrick/Twitter

During a long winter, people expect they'll have to deal with icy roads and too much snow. Seals aren't normally part of the equation.

But that's part of the daily experience in the small town of Roddickton-Bide Arm, Newfoundland, where a group of seals became lost during their migration and moved inland.

The seals have been spotted moving on frozen brooks, on the sides of residential roads and even heading for a gas station.

An excessive number of visitors

The mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, Sheila Fitzgerald, told Vice there are at least 40 seals around the town, and that that number is "conservative."

In the past, the town, population 999, has received visits from a couple of seals, but nothing on this level, according to Fitzgerald. According to her, the seals are moving further and further inland to find food since the brooks aren't offering enough.

"They're coming out of the brooks and they're coming up into the town," Fitzgerald told VICE. "So we've had seals in people's driveways, in their backyard, on the road, seals in the parking lot of businesses, we had seals waddling up to the doorways of businesses. We have so many seals it's becoming a concern."

A seal sits alongside the edge of a residential road in Roddickton-Bide Arm
A seal sits alongside the edge of a residential road in Roddickton-Bide Arm. Brendon FitzPatrick/Twitter

"It's not just that the seals are living around us, we're living around the seals," said Fitzgerald. "We've been working our way around the seals, trying to accommodate them the best we can because we don't want to see anything happen. It's really disturbing to watch."

Despite the town's best intentions, two seals have been hit by cars and died. Their gray-colored coats mean they blend in too well with the dirty snow, particularly at dusk, according to Vice.

Better to help or leave them be?

The harp seals migrate from the Arctic south in the winter, making themselves at home along the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. Normally, this is a fine arrangement because the seals can just dip back into the ocean from the shores. But if there's a sudden freeze, the seals can easily become stuck.

Garry Stenson, an expert on marine animals with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told Vice that the seals are staying near town because it offers two brooks close to its harbor. That means open water to the seals — if they can get there.

"The likely thing is that they got up the inlet looking for food, some bait-fish, and then there was a pretty quick freeze that happened just before Christmas," Stenson told VICE. "It's been described to me as being 10 kilometers (6 miles) long of ice. They're not going to wander over top of the ice unless it's by luck — they don't know which way to head and they won't swim under it.

"So, you got this little brook coming into the area so they're staying near the open water which is where they're comfortable."

Stenson and other DFO scientists will gather soon to determine the next steps, according to a CBC News report. While the DFO has returned seals to the ocean in the past, they typically take a more hands-off approach, allowing the seals to make their way back to the ocean on their own.

"When they're in a place where there's a danger, either to them or to humans, then yeah, fisheries officers have been known to move them," Stenson said to CBC.

"But generally, if they're just lying on a beach or on a slipway or that sort of thing, you just leave them on their own."