Residents of Canada’s Roddickton-Bide Arm are used to seeing seals in town. Every winter, a few harp seals come ashore as waters freeze over — but they’re usually able to get back to the ocean on their own.
However, this year more than 40 harp seals have been stranded for over a week in the Newfoundland town, disrupting traffic, swarming backyards and blocking entrances to business, mayor Sheila Fitzgerald told CNN. Two of the animals were struck by a car and died, according to the mayor and CNN newsgathering partner CBC.
“I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve never seen so many seals coming to town and stay,” Fitzgerald said. “If they could have waddled to the ice edge they would’ve already done so. They’re disoriented. And they need help to get out.”
Early in winter, harp seals keep moving between shifting ice sheets closer to the shore. But if the waters freeze up behind them, they become stranded and lose orientation, moving inland toward the forest, instead of waddling back to the ocean, Fitzgerald said.
“The more time goes by, the more difficult it would get for the seals to find their way to the ocean as the ice keeps freezing,” she added.
Fitzgerald said Canada’s fisheries department (DFO) will deploy conservation officers and a plane to do a fly-by Friday in order to look at how many seals are there and develop a plan. CNN has contacted the DFO but has not yet heard back.
“Any seals seen in town — in the backyards, on the road, by businesses’ entrance — will get captured and brought to the edge of ice, which is 10km (about 6 miles) from here. From there, they’ll be able go back to the ocean,” Fitzgerald said.
She added that the seals’ gray coats blend in with the road so they are in danger of being hit by cars.
Residents have been posting pictures of the seals crawling along town streets, stranded in the middle of them, swimming in a brook and trying to climb a snow bank near a gas station.
Brendon Fitzpatrick, who posted some of the images, expressed concern that the seals will starve to death unless they’re taken to the ocean.
“They’re pitiful to look at. I mean, they haven’t eaten,” Fitzgerald told CBC.
Ariom Eegam told CNN he spotted a dozen seals in a brook connected to the town’s water supply. He also posted images of the two dead seals on the road.
“I saw trails of blood on the ice as they struggle to get to a place they can find hope,” Eegam said.
Police warned the public not to touch the seals or attempt to approach them as it is illegal under Canadian law.
“The RCMP and DFO remind the general public that it is illegal to disturb marine mammals and although animals of the wild may appear to be friendly in nature, it is very dangerous to approach or attempt to capture animals without proper equipment,” a police statement on Facebook read.