Caleigh Cunning plays in this photo dated June 21. ((Submitted by Mike Cunning))

A harbour seal leapt from the water and dragged a five-year-old girl off a dock at a marina in West Vancouver on Tuesday, according to the child's father.

Mike Cunning said he was cleaning fish at the Thunderbird Marina on Marine Drive, just east of Horseshoe Bay, when he heard a splash.

"And I looked over and my daughter had disappeared, and I thought, well, Caleigh has fallen into the water. She has her life jacket on, so she'll just pop back up to the surface," Cunning said.

But it was few seconds before his daughter surfaced about two metres from where she fell in.

"When she popped to the surface, she said, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, the seal!' and I said, 'What?'" he said.

A neighbour on a nearby boat then told Cunning a seal had jumped out of the water and pulled Caleigh from the dock.

"This thing must have taken a running start to be able to launch itself four feet out of the water, grab a 50-pound five-year-old and then drag her underneath the water with a life-jacket on," Cunning said.

Puncture wounds

He initially thought his daughter's hand was broken because it was badly swollen and bleeding with four large puncture wounds at the base of her wrist.

'Thank God she had the life-jacket on. I can't imagine what would have happened.'

— Caleigh's father, Mike Cunning

The little girl was traumatized and taken to the hospital to be treated for the puncture wounds, but is otherwise OK, Cunning said.

Caleigh had been feeding the seals at the fish cleaning station earlier in the day, and Cunning said that's why he suspects it attacked his daughter.

After the incident, she told her father she thought it was very rude of the seal not to ask if she wanted to go for a swim, and she doesn't want to feed the seal or be its friend anymore.


Two harbour seals keep watch from a rock in Jervis Inlet along B.C.'s coast. ((Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press))

Cunning said he has heard of seals attacking small dogs on leashes and dragging them into the water to eat them, but never attacking a child.

"Thank God she had the life-jacket on. I can't imagine what would have happened," he said.

Harbour seals can reach up to 1.8 metres in length and 130 kilograms, and are considered curious and intelligent. Their normal diet is mostly fish and shellfish.


  • Caleigh Cunning was rescued from the water at a West Vancouver marina. Earlier versions of this story gave her name incorrectly as Kaylee Cunningham.
    Sep 02, 2009 3:30 PM PT