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Seals normally give birth on ice floes in Atlantic Canadian waters in February and March.

A federal seal researcher says the early birth of seal pups in Labrador may be an indication the area's seal population has grown too large.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher Garry Stenson said that seal population growth could lead to reproductive problems.

"What you expect in a population that is starting to regulate itself are things like lower reproductive rates and variable reproductive rates, but also higher pup mortality and also higher juvenile mortality," he said Monday in St. John's.

Stenson said the harp seal population of Atlantic Canada is now at between eight and nine million. A 2004 assessment of seal stocks estimated the harp seal population in the area at between 4.6 and 7.2 million.

Stenson said DFO received five reports of seals giving birth in on the coast of Labrador in December, although the nomadic sea mammals normally give birth in late February or early March.

He said the early births are happening on land rather than ice floes and it's unlikely the newborn pups will survive.