A small Newfoundland town has been forced to call in the feds after a group of confused seals stranded inland took over the place.
Ever since Christmas, the fine people of Roddickton-Bide Arm have seen the goofy little animals making their ways to gas stations, hanging out in parking lots, and in some cases, making their way to the front of people's homes.
It’s not all fun and games though, at least two of the harp seals have been run over and killed by cars after the group of the animals were waylaid near the inlet town by a snap freeze of the water behind them. Sheila Fitzgerald, the mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, tells VICE that there at least 40 seals near the town and that number is “conservative.”
To put it frankly, her town is just fuckin’ lousy with seals.
Dr. Garry Stenson, an expert on marine animals with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told VICE that while the situation "it's not common but it happens" and that the department is working with the town on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula to find a solution.
The harp seals migrate from the Arctic south in the winter and at times hang out off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. When the weather is nice and ice melted the animals can move their way closer to the shores—something that can bite them in the ass if there is a quick freeze. Stenson said the animals are probably sticking close to the town because of the two brooks near Roddickton-Bide Arm’s harbour, meaning there is open water 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 kilometres 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."
In the meantime, the town and nearby area is full with seals too confused to make their way out. Mayor Fitzgerald said that in the past Roddickton-Bide Arm may have gotten “a couple of seals” but nothing like this. She said there just isn’t enough food in the brooks for the seals so they’ve started searching around for some grub.
"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."
The shittiest thing is that the seals are grey with light spots and the small town of just 999 people sand their roads. Meaning, when it’s dusk, the sanded roads work as a pretty good camouflage for the animals. On Wednesday morning two seals were found after being hit by a car sometime the night before—while Fitzgerald didn’t know if the hit animals died the RCMP confirmed to the CBC they did.
"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."
Like them being stuck inland, seals being run over isn’t all that rare either, Stenson said. Seals, especially the younger ones, tend to wander and sometimes that will bring them to a road or highway near where they are being raised. Now, as you know, seals aren’t the most graceful animals on terra firma so they aren’t that adept at getting out of the way of an oncoming F-150. Having moving road bumps that die when you run them over isn’t the only negative thing the seals bring to Roddickton-Bide Arm.
"Even though they're really cute in nature, sweet to look at, they can be aggressive animals so you can't go too close to them,” said Fitzgerald. “We've been encouraging residents to stay away from the seals because they bark and they hiss and they get upset and they could bite."
Stenson adds that while it’s rare for a harp seal to get aggressive, they’re still a wild animal so it’s best practice not to mess with them when you see them. The town has brought their concerns to the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Fitzgerald says she’s been very pleased with their response. They’ve sent in three wildlife agents to assist the towns and seals and will move them out when they can.
"What you would like to see is the ice to break up in which case they would find their own way out, that depends on the weather though,” said Stenson. “The other option is there are fishery officers out there and whenever possible they will catch them and move them."
In the meantime, he adds, the town should just “enjoy seeing some seals in their area.”
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