Newfoundland town asks for help as stranded seals block roads, cry out

RODDICKTON, N.L. — A Newfoundland mayor said dozens of stranded seals are causing havoc in her town, and she's calling on federal Fisheries officials to remove them.

Roddickton Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald said the wayward animals have been blocking roads, driveways and doors — and residents are unable to move them because it is illegal to touch marine mammals.

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An RCMP spokesperson said it appears two of the animals were struck by a vehicle on Tuesday night.

Fitzgerald said the group of about 40 harp seals is becoming hungry, tired and are crying out, suggesting they may be too disoriented to find their way back to the ocean.

The seals' coats can blend in with the snowy roads, and drivers have reported several close calls.

"This is disturbing for the residents to watch," Fitzgerald said. "We are getting inundated with phone calls from people that are saying, 'You've gotta do something. The seals are in my driveway,' or 'The seals, I see them suffering.'"

Town council has asked the Fisheries Department to return the seals to the ocean, which is at the edge of a frozen inlet that has trapped the animals in the area since last week. "It's not a matter of the seals doing it on their own. If they could, they would have," Fitzgerald said. "It's also a matter that the town can't take care of it."

Garry Stenson, lead scientist for the department's marine mammals section, said officials were in Roddickton on Wednesday to count the animals and assess the conditions before coming up with a new plan.

He said the department receives calls about stranded seals every year, but he said the number of animals in Roddickton poses a different problem.

Harp seals spend most of their time in open water or on floating ice, and they usually swim away from land.

In Roddickton's case, Stenson said it appears the seals have wandered too far from the ocean and have become disoriented.

Fitzgerald said a few seals are usually spotted near town every year, but she's never seen such a large group in such distress.

"What's going to happen when these seals start to perish all around? It could potentially impact people's health and well-being," she said. "This is hard for the little seals, because nobody wants to see animals hurt — but it's also hard for the town."

The small community on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula is home to 999 people, according to the most recent census.

The province's regulated seal hunting season, which requires hunters to have a licence for humane harvesting, typically opens in early April. The vast majority of the seals that are killed are between one and three months old.

The seals in Roddickton appear to be older animals, Stenson said.

Earlier this week, federal officials and the RCMP returned a rogue seal to the ocean after it appeared twice in populated areas on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula — in one case, blocking a hospital entrance. — By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L.

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