The odd seal might even go upriver and give birth on someone's lawn, seal watchers say
With a milder winter than usual, seals may start showing up in unexpected areas inland, biologists warn.
From now until spring, it's pupping season for four species of seals in New Brunswick: grey, harp, harbour and hooded.
And because the marine mammals must come ashore to have their pups, they do occasionally show up a bit farther away from the ocean than usual.
"They do tend to wander a bit," Tonya Wimmer, the executive director of the Marine Animal Rescue Society, also known as MARS, said Wednesday.
"We will get animals sometimes even quite a way inland, where they've gone up rivers and end up on someone's front lawn, for example, to rest or to give birth."
Seal pups aren't born able to swim. Depending on the species they need to grow on ice or land a while before they're able to survive in the ocean.
That can vary depending on the species. Hooded seal pups need about four days of nursing out of the water before they can swim alongside their mothers. Harbour seals need a couple of weeks, according to Wimmer.
And in winters when there is less ice in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, seals need to come ashore.
"If the ice isn't there, we do see those animals having these pups on the beaches and shores," said Wimmer. "In those years where the ice isn't really particularly great, especially in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we will see those animals throughout our beaches."
It's important not to disturb seals during pupping season, according to Wimmer, even if you suspect an animal is lost or abandoned.
Some species of seal will leave their offspring during low tide while they forage for food, so pups aren't abandoned. They're awaiting their mother's return.
And trying to herd seals into the ocean when they may not be able to swim yet isn't just cruel, it's illegal.
"Under the Fisheries Act, you can't harm, harass or disturb marine mammals," said Wimmer.
More seals this season
Pupping season tends to bring a lot more seals into areas populated by people, Saint John researchers say.
"In the summertime we see no seal at the Irving Nature Park and then this time of year, I just got word today there was 50," said Shauna Sands, the conservation co-ordinator with the Atlantic Coastal Action Program in Saint John.
"In February we usually she about 100 there."
Sands has been studying the seal population in the Saint John area since 2018. She said people often see only one single seal at a time, or maybe a handful, so the may be surprised to know there are hundreds.
"The highest numbers that we're seeing in the spring are about 200 to about 250 across all of our sites at one time," she said. This coincides with the height of harbour seal pupping.
"They have their pups right on the rocks at low tide," said Sands. "They leave them there until the tide rises again. And they wean off their mom within, I think it's like four to six weeks after being born. So it's pretty quick."
If you do come across a seal that seems to be in distress Wimmer's advice is to asses it by observation.
"If you're getting near somewhat or walking by and the animal doesn't really even look at you, doesn't pay attention or react at all, if they're really thin and you can see the neck or some of their ribs or things like that, that may be bad signs," said Wimmer.
Anyone concerned about a seal's health, or even just curious if a seal looks a little lost, should contact MARS at 1-866-567-6277.
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